Monday, 5 May 2014
Wherever a saint has dwelt, wherever a martyr has given blood for the blood of Christ
There is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it...
...From such ground springs that which forever renews the earth.
"May God prosper it"
An entire community of Cistercian monks moved from Poulton Abbey, Chester, to a site near the village of Leek, Stafforsdhire, in 1214. This new site had already been some kind of religious establishment before the monks arrived - the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a structure which was partly natural and partly man made. Close by the site of the abbey there is a cavern, running several feet into the sandstone rock-face. Three cells can be discerned, along with the remains of a doorway, and awning for a roof.
The Cistercians existed as a reforming movement, pledging to return to a simpler and purer form of monasticism. North Staffordshire was ideal for colonisation by such an order, whose constitutions required that they settled in remote areas away from towns. They were required to live by the labour of their own hands, using granges staffed by lay-bretheren called 'conversi'. The conversi could not read or write, and did not participate fully in the liturgical and devotional life of the monastery. They performed the manual tasks of the community, allowing the Cistercians to operate as self-contained units. They employed minimum hired labour, and avoided the use of the manorial economy with its leases and rents.
As far as the strict observance of Cistercian statutes was concerned, it was doomed to failure from the beginning. The original community of monks was set up by Robert Pincerna, who desired that they would pray for the health and safety of his lord and master Ranulph II, Earl of Chester. Ranulph had that year been imprisoned by the King, and there was a common anxiety to 'do something good, before it was too late'. Whilst Robert Pincerna was afraid of their position in the eyes of God - after much pillage, destruction, misery and waste across the land - he made various gifts to the monks of Poulton.
Cistercians were forbidden to receive such gifts.