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Chapter II: Monastic Life


In our pages we shall have to relate the story of abbots both good and bad, of abbots careless and abbots strict, of some who squandered property and some who carefully husbanded it. Of one it is especially said in the loving record of his death, that he was “ane richt gude man.” What was the monkish idea of a good abbot we learn from the description of an Abbot Ralph, in the chronicle of another Abbey, which, in all probability, would have applied to Abbot Tervas, of whom the eulogy above mentioned was written, and to others of his brethren in the abbacy of Paisley: “Though he continually governed those who were under his authority, yet he himself was subservient to rules, and commanded no one as a master. He sustained the infirmities of others, and called them forth to strength. His acts corresponded with what he taught. His example preceded his doctrine. He inculcated a prompt attendance on divine service, and, supporting his aged limbs upon his staff, preceded his young men to it. Ever first in the choir, he was ever last to quit it. Thus he was a pattern of good works. A Martha and a Mary. A serpent and a dove. He was a Noah amidst the waters. While he never rejected the raven, he always received the dove. He governed the clean and the unclean. He knew how to bear with Ham, and how to bestow his blessing on Shem and Japheth. Like a prudent husbandman, he caused occupied lands to be promptly cultivated, and those that lay waste he added in, and by this means increased their value by the sum of twenty pounds. Meanwhile he overlooked not the spiritual husbandry, tilling hearts with the ploughshare of good doctrine in many books which he wrote, and, although his style was homely, it was rich in the beauty of morality. Neither his racking cough, nor his vomiting of blood, nor his advanced age, nor the attenuation of his flesh availed to daunt this man, or to turn him aside from any purpose of elevated piety; but, lo! after many agonies and bodily sufferings, when he was eighty-four years of age, and had been a monk sixty years and thirty-six days, the great Householder summoned him to the reward of his day's penny.” [4] Doubtless there were abbots of Paisley, whom this description of the good ruler answers, and when we think of them we may be pardoned if we bear it in mind, rather than the picture drawn by prejudiced satirists, and enshrined in the vulgar ballads of a coarse age.

After the Abbot came the Prior, and he it was who bore the burden and heat of the day. He was the Abbot's depute, and had often to take his place when he was absent, as he frequently required to be. He per¬formed all the offices pertaining to the Abbot, except making or deposing obedientiaries and consecrating novices. Whether the Abbot was present or absent he struck the cymbalum, beat the table as the signal for work and monitum in the dormitory, as well as corrected the faults of the readers in the church and chapter. So onerous were his duties that he had special assistants allotted to him; and in the chronicles of Paisley we read both of a sub-prior and claustral prior. The latter was the Prior's vicar, and remained always in the cloister. Like his superior, the Prior had special privileges which distinguished him from the other brethren. He could give permits to the monks to go beyond the monastery, and fix the time when they were bound to return. If any strangers dined in the refectory, he was allowed to remain with them and keep them company; and when he sat at table he could send his cup to the Cellarer to be filled once or twice, and that officer could not refuse him. It was always a great matter for the Abbot when his second in command was one on whom he could thoroughly rely. To his discretion he committed many matters to which he would otherwise have had to attend personally; and in the various transactions at Paisley, the name of the Prior .appears again and again in the signing of leases and making of agreements.



[4] Chronicle of Battle Abbey, by M. A. Lowder, p. 65.