IRECENTLY spent the morning being shown round a six acre site just beyond the Tower of London and north of East Smithfield on which extensive excavation has now been completed prior to redevelopment. My guide was Peter Mills, of the Museum of London, who was leading a team engaged on what turned out to be a fascinating archaeological adventure. For, in the course of our walkabout, we stood, at certain points, on the very ground once trodden by the monks of one of Britain's foremost monasteries.
The site was formerly occupied by the old Royal Mint and before that by ' tobacco warehouses and victualling yards for the Royal Navy. But in the middle ages a mighty religious house stood there. This was the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary Graces, known as Tower Hill Abbey to John Stow and his contemporaries.
Something very exciting has thus happened. The excavations have produced a unique opportunity to examine the complete area of a major religious house of the 14th century. The whole area is now exposed — except, of course, for the empty buildings of the old Royal Mint — and it would be possible, despite redevelopment of the site for commercial purposes, to leave visible certain key areas of the original monastery.
This would then be a most tempting spot for tourists and others to visit, and the case for partial presetvation of these unusual foundations must be a strong one. But there is, I gather, a danger that such precious remains may be obliterated when the new buildings are commenced. This would surely be a tragic mistake.
It is perhaps ironical that the Royal Mint, as of 1811, occupied (until its removal to Wales in 1975) a site that was once a very rich monastery. Not that it was at all rich to begin with. Few of the very old monasteries were, though many became so in the course of medieval economic history.
St Mary Graces was, in fact, positively impoverished to begin with. Its later prosperity was largely due to that great crisis within the church in the 14th century which was indirectly responsible for a weakening of the ecclesiastical link, binding insular Britain with the continent and Rome.
For the latter part of the 14th century was, of course, dominated by the Great Schism, during which, at one point, there were three "Popes." The Cistercian chain of command was broken and contact between the English and French houses was forbidden.
King Richard II took the opportunity of assuming control over the Cistercians through the recently founded St Mary Graces, which he commanded to convene a general chapter to reestablish discipline_ Thereafter the House received bequests of money and property and became the third richest Cistercian House by the time of the Dissolution.
WHEN discussing with a friend the effect of the Great Schism on England we got talking about the rather odd way in which the Schism was finally ended.
Those fourteenth century days were heady ones indeed. Boniface VIII set the -pace in 1302 by declaring in a famous bull (Hawn Sanctam) that "Because of the need for salvation every human creature is subject to the Roman Pontiff."
Boniface, however, ended his days as a pathetic prisoner and the Papacy was soon afterwards "captured" by France. There followed the Church's "Babylonian exile" in Avignon. No sooner had this come to an end than the Great'Schistn broke out.
It was a spectacle of disedification unprecedented in the history of Christendom. Two claimants to the Papacy, each with several countries on his side (Clement VII and Urban VI), confronted each other and went to war. Each resorted to the weapon of excommunication and by the summer of 1379 the whole of Christendom found itself excommunicated.
The battle raged for thirty years after which a third claimant, in the person of Alexander V, joined the fray.
The Council of Constance "settled" the situation in 1415 with a somewhat selfcontradictory compromise. The Schism had given rise to the theory of "conciliarism", according to which a legitimately constituted General Council must be the finally deciding voice in the Church in the case of disputes. Martin V. a Cardinal but not a priest, was declared Pope to end the deadlock. This was only made possible by recognition of the theory of conciliarism — or so it can be argued.
Martin seemed to accept this principle by becoming Pope as a result of it, but never actually agreed to one of its demands, namely that even the Pope himself was subject to a General Council. Had he been more diplomatic he could perhaps have been the founder in modern times of that "collegiality" which is implicit in Matthew's gospel and was finally enunciated in the Second Vatican Council.
Some see Martin V as the man who might, had he not decided to put the clock back rather than forward after a hundred years of strife within the Church, have averted the Reformation.
I HAVE had a bit of bad luck with a book I wrote about Queen Ena of Spain which was published earlier in the year. Imagine my surprise at seeing it prominently written up among books recommended for Christmas by The Times! Then, bang! I discovered from my publishers that the book was already virtually sold out and would not be reprinting until after Christmas.
Some consolation was derived from hearing about an attempt to rush out a second edition of a book in the USA to meet a sudden and unexpected demand. The extreme haste of the operation caused the binding to be faulty and each book came away at the seams almost as soon as you opened it.
The title of the book was Disintegration Now?
A real card A NEWLY designed greetings card has just been published by the Council of Christians and Jews and is expected to prove attractive, particulary to members of both faiths who are sometimes doubtful as to the kind of card which they can send to friends of "the other faith" — especially before Christmas, which this year actually falls during the period of the Jewish Festival of Light — Chanuka.
The card has on its front, in English and Hebrew, the words "Behold! how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalm 133). Inside is space for personal messages, headed "Greetings."
The card was selected by Mr John Harris, a graphic designer who is a CCJ member and who designed the original CCJ greetings card, still being sold. The new design by Mrs Barbara Jackson, another CCJ member, is being sold at 25p, and is obtainable from CCJ, 48, Onslow Gardens, London, SW7 3PX.
WILLIAM Wilberforce must have felt thoroughly at home last week in the House of Commons. The Bible Society's General Director, the Rev Neville Cryer, presented the Society's portrait of one of its famous founders to the Speaker.
The portrait was painted in 1953 from sources of the time, and has been housed in the City of London headquarters of the Bible Society.
With the planned move of its headquarters next year to Swindon, the Society felt the portrait should remain in London, and the Palace of Westminster seemed the most appropriate home for the great Parliamentarian.
A LANCASHIRE parish priest was recently on holiday in the USA. When taking Holy Communion to a sick parishioner, he was handed a copy of an American Parish Bulletin which included the following passage: "To make it possible for everyone to attend Church next Sunday we are sponsoring a special No Excuse Sunday:
(i) Cots will be at the back of the Church for those who say 'Sunday is the only day I can sleep'.
(ii) We will have steel helmets for those who say 'The roof would cave in if ever I went to church'.
(iii) Blankets will be furnished for those who say 'The Church is too cold' and fans for those who say 'It's too hot'.
(iv) Score cards will be available for those who wish to list the names of all the hypocrites present.
(v) There will be TV dinners for the mothers who can't get to church and cook dinner at the same time.
(vi) One section of the Church will have trees and grass for those who like to find God in nature; the other part will have a putting-green for those who cannot imagine heaven without golf.
(vii) Some relatives will be in attendance for those who like to go visiting on Sunday.
(viii) Finally, we will decorate the sanctuary with Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the Church without them . . ."