Monday, March 19, 2012

The Real-Life Abbeys

Was "Downton Abbey" once a monastery? Most likely, yes.
Then there was the reality of the monasteries. The abbeys and convents were more than houses of prayer. They were magnets for local towns and regions. In them were schools. Often, there were hospitals, at least as such were known in the 16th century. In the monasteries, the poor found relief. They were centers of worship and devotion. Finally, many abbots sat in Parliament.

If unchecked, the monasteries very likely could frustrate the king as he sought to change religion in England. So, he instituted a policy to dissolve the monasteries. It was an amazing, stupendous undertaking, as if Congress today ordered the closing of every college and university in this country. Brute force played a role. Resistance varied. For example, among the first martyrs of those days were Carthusians from an abbey. They would not acknowledge the king’s order separating the Church from Rome, so they were executed.

Less edifying, some monks thought that if they accommodated the king, they could keep their monasteries intact. The Benedictine monastic community at Westminster Abbey fell into this category. They were wrong. Even if religious followed the king away from Rome, he closed their abbeys.

As a result, the king in a relatively short period of time had at his disposal huge areas of land, once occupied by the monasteries, along with everything that the monasteries had owned.  A few of the monasteries were kept as Anglican churches, although the monks were expelled. Westminster Abbey is an example.  In many other cases, the king simply seized whatever had belonged to monasteries as his own. Then, on some occasions, he gave the land to nobles whom he wished to placate. Some real-life English nobles today own and occupy land once the site of a Catholic abbey. (Read entire post.)

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