Wednesday, April 8, 2009

(3) Fall

Soon thereafter I stood before the monastic community and citizens
of the village, as well as members of the leading families in the
region, and kneeled before the Diocesan Bishop of Hereford and
the Abbot of the nearby Gloucester Abbey and took my Abbatial
vows. I had only entered into my 51st year. In full ceremonial
dress--that included a mitre and staff as well vestments and
insignia--I followed the great procession out of the church,
blessing the congregation. It was like a whirlwind, suddenly
realizing that I had become a Benedictine Abbot.

I suspect that I was made the fastest abbot in the Benedictine Order.
I didn't even have time to greet the monks properly. Later I found
that there were some 40 monks at Tewkesbury, less than half those
who resided at the Christ Church Priory. So I smugly thought that I
would be more than able to lead this new abbey community. My
smugness soon dissipated, when I discovered that we had a
considerable monastic diversity. Tewkesbury was a country abbey,
and a good number of its monks were "field monks." They were
barely literate, mainly tending to our adjacent lands, producing our
food, tending to large herds of cattle, seeing to it that the Abbey also
turned a profit producing flour in its mills, and sending cheese and
milk products down river to nearby villages.

It seemed as if I was challenged to be even more a businessman
than when I was at Canterbury. I had to spend a lot of time in the
saddle, inspecting the lands, visiting the mills. But this effort proved
a good thing, because I not only came to value more the work of
our field monks but also I had occasion to meet the common people.
Happily I got along very well with these good rough folk, and that
gave me a considerable satisfaction.

About one-third of the monastic community were "choir monks," in
that they were more educated and were usually younger sons from
the great houses in the area. But even these particular monks were
rough-around-the-edges. Though I had been a younger son, by
good luck I had acquired a more scholarly education than most
of Tewkesbury's choir monks. So I could see that my work was cut
out, trying to raise the education level of all my monks. Right off, I
needed to raise the standards of both the abbey's novitiate and
monastic school. This would be a long-term undertaking, so I really
had to remain patient.

Hard work, all of this, but I was really happy. As a scholar I was doing
what came naturally. I taught far more at Tewkesbury than I did at
Christ Church Priory. Basically I was the lonely scholar for a long
period of time. But the word got out that we were developing a
serious educational program, and over times the abbey began to
attract some scholar-monks who could help build-up the monastic

Beyond this, my new-found friend--the Abbot of Gloucester Abbey--
informed me that we abbots in the region took turns inspecting the
various Benedictine houses in the area. Hence my time as an
inspector would come around. Sighing at the thought, I knew I
would be spending far more time on horseback than I wished.
Still all this endeavor, traveling around and about, took my mind
far and away from the king and Archbishop Baldwin.

But that was soon to change. Almost exactly a year after my
arrival at Tewkesbury, the news came that King Henry had died.
This surprised me, in that he was only two years older than me.
As for Baldwin, his tenure as archbishop soon ended as well.
Ironic, very ironic. If I could have managed to have stayed at
Christ Church Priory, I probably would have found more smooth
sailing. However, Fate moves us as it will. For some unknown
reason, I felt strongly that I was meant to come to Tewkesbury
because of something special that I needed to experience.

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