Wednesday, April 8, 2009

(1) Fall

Chapter Three: FALL

At least Archbishop Baldwin allowed us monks food, albeit slim
pickings. That was all right, because we weren't into gluttony
anyway! As prior my duties were considerably reduced by the
imprisonment, so I bided my time teaching more. We began to
enrich the novitiate scholastically. And with the help of some
our older monks, I happened upon a project.

I started making inquiries about the tenure of that great archbishop,
Thomas a Becket. The memories of these monks who served with
him were still fresh. So I interviewed these monks, wrote down
their perceptions, and collated my notes. Over the course of more
than a year engaged in this project, I realized that I possessed
some considerably dangerous information. No matter how one
looked at this information about Thomas a Becket, it pointed to a
seriously awry relationship between this late, good archbishop
and King Henry II. Though the king claimed innocence in regard
to Thomas' death, my monk's reporting told a far different story.

What with our problems with Archbishop Baldwin, I wasn't about
to irritate the king by writing a book and making it public. If I did,
I knew that I likely would have pronounced my own death sentence--
albeit done surreptitiously! So I hid my notes, yet I kept them close
to me.

Towards the end of the second year of our monastic imprisonment,
Archbishop Baldwin asked me to meet with him. The man was
blunt. He said that I had been appointed to become the Abbot of
Tewkesbury Abbey, near the Welsh Border, and I had best accept
the appointment. He hinted that once I was gone, he would lift
the closure ban on the cloisters of our priory if I left.

Sadly I knew that Baldwin had the backing of King Henry II,
otherwise the offer to become an abbot would never had been
made. As far as I was concerned, I knew my fate had been
chiseled in stone. I had no real choice in the matter, else my
life--as well as Christ Church Priory--would be in jeopardy!
My heart was broken.

In less than a week I was sent packing. Tears flowed in the priory.
I had no idea how much the monks had cherished me as their
prior. Publicly I had to hold back my own tears, trying to boost
the morale of the priory. I told them the good news that soon
their cloisters would be unlocked by Archbishop Baldwin and
that presumably they would once again serve the cathedral.
But back in my own rooms, I wept. My so-called advancement
was a travesty. And in accepting, I would be taken away from
the monastic home that I had come to love so deeply!

The black day came. I stood before the gate of the cathedral,
dressed for travel, guarded by some of the king's soldiers who
presumably were to protect me during our long journey. Standing
at the gate, I asked for a sword from one of the soldiers. He was
leery, but relieved when I plunged the sword into the ground--
making its hilt into the sign-of-the cross. I knelt before it and
prayed hard for my beloved priory. Done, I rose, gave a farewell
blessing over my monks, and mounted my horse.

As we rode out onto the street, I was shocked. There stood
hundreds of the townspeople. They cheered, yelling out their
good wishes. I blessed them too! But it had to be one of the
saddest days of my life.

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