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Time Trails

Time Trails Reformation

Monastic Life and the Reformation

The dissolution of the Priory of St Mary Overy

  • Among you there can be no question of personal property. Rather, take care that you share everything in common. Your superior should see to it that each person is provided with food and clothing. He does not have to give exactly the same to everyone, for you are not all equally strong, but each person should be given what he personally needs.
  • The place for prayer should not be used for any other purpose other than that for which it is intended and from which it takes its name. Thus if someone wants to pray there even outside the appointed hours, in his own free time, he should be able to do so without being hindered by others who have no business there.
  • From the beginning of the meal to the end listen to the customary reading of the Scriptures, for you have not only to satisfy your physical hunger, but also to hunger for the word of God.
  • Do not attract attention by the way you dress. Endeavour to impress by your manner of life, not by the clothes you wear.

Extracts from the Rule of St Augustine

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In the year of Our Lord 1535 a group of novices listen to a story about the founder of their order, St Augustine of Hippo.

They are seated in the grounds of the Priory of St Mary Overy. The Priory was founded in 1106 by Bishop William Gifford and is famed for its good works in the community of Southwark.

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The Prior (Bartholomew Fowle) and Sub-Prior (Thomas Hendon) greet the new canons and give them various tasks.

The novices are instructed to assist:

  • The Almoner -  giving charity to the poor.
  • The Sacrist - responsible for church contents and relics.
  • The Cellarer - taking care of food and drink supplies.
  • The Infirmarian/Infirmarer - caring for the sick.
  • The Hospitaller - welcoming guests to the Priory.
  • The Precentor - responsible for the church services.
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Having been allotted to their various tasks, the young canons set to work.

Before long, fatigue sets in and they are soon fast asleep...

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Matins - the first service of the day. At 2 am the weary canons are awoken and quietly process into the choir. To make sure they remain awake, the Circator makes his rounds. The Circator shines a lamplight into the canons' faces. Those canons who are clearly asleep are awoken by the Circator.

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One day a wealthy visitor arrives at the Priory demanding to see the Prior.

The visitor, Willyam Peter, is one of Henry VIII's commissioners. Henry is trying to weed out the failing monasteries, close them down and keep their assets. Willyam has instructions to inspect the Priory of St Mary Overy.

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Unfortunately for Henry, the Priory is fulfilling its commitment to the people of Southwark. Henry orders the Prior and the canons to process through the streets of the town, carrying their finest gold and silver altar ware. Henry is hoping that the Southwark inhabitants will be outraged by the wealth of the Priory whose members take a vow of poverty.

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Foiled again! The procession appears not to upset the locals.

Only one course of action left. William Pryor presents a new document form Henry, to the Prior, to read to the assembled community.

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Dismay. Henry has decided to close the Priory anyway. Wars don't come cheap and someone has to pay for the protection of the realm.

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The canons count their pensions. £6 a year for the ordinary canons, £8 a year for the Sub-Canons, and £80 a year for the Prior. At least £80 is what the Prior should have received. Bartholomew Fowle rejected this meagre sum and in return was awarded £100 a year!

The Priory is dissolved in 1539 and the canons adopt secular modes of dress as their wearing of scapulars could have them arrested. The Priory buildings are given to friends of Henry VIII.

As time goes on further changes occur in the country's religious life. Henry's son, Edward VI shows considerable concern in the appearance of churches. With an importance being on 'The Word', brightly coloured vestments, gold and silver altarware, even altars are not required. The language of Latin is abandoned in favour of English, so all can understand and take part in the service.

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Mary I attempts to revert back to the 'Old Faith' during her reign (1554-1558), but her methods, being so harsh, are not popular. Elizabeth I, the last of Henry's children, reinstates Protestantism, becomes Head of the Church of England and persuades Parliament to introduce an Act of Uniformity which attempts to keep the majority happy.

The religious question, for the most part, is settled.