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   Chapter 17 No.17

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 5247

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


We must not speak of monks indiscriminately as if they were all the same. There were as many varieties among the Orders as there are sects among Protestants and as much rivalry and even hatred of one with the other. Let us learn some of the distinctions among them.

Monks were first introduced into Western Europe in the year 529. There had long been brotherhoods, hermits, and solitaries in the East, where they existed before the Christian age. St. Benedict founded at Monte Casino in Campania a monastery for twelve brethren in that year. The Benedictines are the most ancient Order: they have also been always the most learned. The Priory of the Holy Trinity in London was Benedictine. Several branches sprang out of this Order, mostly founded with the view of practising greater austerities. Among them were the Carthusians, a very strict Order-in London they had the Charter House, a name which is a corruption of Chartreuse, their original House: and the Cistercians, founded at Citeaux in France-they had Eastminster, or the Abbey of St. Mary of Grace. All these were monks.

The Augustine, or Austin Friars, pretended to have been founded by Augustine, but were not constituted until the year 1256. They had the monastery of Austin Friars in London. There were several branches of this Order.

There were next the three great Mendicant Orders, Franciscans, Dominicans, and Carmelites. These were the popular Orders. The monks remained in their Houses alone, separated from the world. The friars went about among the people. By their vows they were to possess nothing of their own: they were to sleep where they could: they were to beg their food and raiment: they were to preach to the people in the streets and in their houses: they were to bring the rites of the Church to those who would not enter the doors of the Church. None were to be too poor or too miserable for them. In their humility they would not be called fathers but brothers-fratres-friars. In their preaching they used every way by which they could move the hearts of the people; some thundered, some wept, some made jokes. They preached in the midst of the markets, among the sports of the Fair, wherever they could get an audience together.

The Franciscans, who had Grey Friars House, now the Bluecoat School, were founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the beginning of the thirteenth century. They came over to England and appeared in London a few years later. On account of their austerities and the faithfulness with which the earlier Franciscans kept their vows and the earnestness of their preaching they became very popular in this

country. Their name-Grey Friars-denotes the colour of their dress. The old simplicity and poverty did not last long. It must, however, be acknowledged that wealth was forced upon them.

The Dominicans were founded by St. Dominic about the year 1215. Sixty years later they came to London and established themselves in the place still known by their name-Blackfriars. Their dress was white with a black cloak. They were never so popular as the Franciscans perhaps because they insisted more on doctrine, and were associated with the Inquisition.

The third of the Mendicant Orders was the Carmelite. They were the Whitefriars, their dress being white with a black hood. Their House was in Fleet Street. Here was a sanctuary whose privileges were not abolished till the year 1697.

Other Orders represented in London were the Cluniacs, a branch of Benedictines-they had the Abbey of St. Saviour in Bermondsey; the Black Canons, established at St. Bartholomew's: the Canons Regular of St. Augustin-who had the Southwark Priory of St. Mary Overie: the Knights Templars; and the Knights of St. John.

As a general rule it is enough to remember that the monks were Benedictines with their principal branches of Carthusians, Cistercians, and Cluniacs: that the friars were those named after Augustine, Dominic, Francis, and Mount Carmel; that the monks remained in their Houses, practising a life of austerity and prayer-so long as they were faithful to their vows: and that the friars went about among the people, preaching and exhorting them.

Of the nunneries some were Benedictine, some Franciscan: that of the Minorites belonged to the latter Order: that of St. Helen's, to the former.

The Religious Houses were dissolved at the Reformation. You must remember that if it had not been for the existence of these Houses, most of the arts, science, and scholarship of the world would have perished utterly. The monks kept alive learning of all kinds: they encouraged painting: they were discoverers and inventors in science: they were the chief agriculturists and gardeners: they offered an asylum to the poor and the oppressed. 'The friendship of the poor,' said Bernard, 'makes us the friends of Kings.' And in an age of unrestrained passions they showed an example of self-restraint and austerity. The friars did more: they were poor among the poor: no one was below their care and affection: they had nothing-they would take nothing-at first: till the love and gratitude of the people showered gifts upon them and even against their will, if they still retained any love for poverty, they became rich.

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