From Manx Soc vol IV,VII & IX

APPENDIX E. [Rushen Abbey]

Rushen Abbey was founded by Olave I., A.D. 1134. Originally it was a building of considerable extent and some architectural pretensions, but after the suppression it fell into ruins, and has gradually dwindled away, till but an insignificant portion of it now remains. The ground for its erection, in the first instance, was given to Revaulx Abbey, but either through neglect, or inability on the part of the inmates to make use of the donation, it was bestowed upon Furness. At the period of this second grant, the Savignian brotherhood was only of ten years’ standing, so that it is evident they were in no better position than their confreres to make much of the gift It was accepted, however, and as this was the year in which,—to use the figurative language of the chartulary,—"the leaves of their vine had begun to expand", they sent out their first colony under Gerold to found Caldre. Through some mishap the expedition failed, and the leader and his companions returned to Furness, but were refused admittance on the score of cowardice, and a hankering after the " flesh pots of Egypt." Eight years afterwards Gerold died at York, just as he had succeeding in establishing the monastery of Byland

It is not unlikely that it was during this blight in the Furness vine that a second colony was sent forth to try Rushen, and take possession of Olave’s grant. If such was the case, it could not have been very successful, for according to the chartulary the abbey was not founded till 1238 ; and we learn from the Chronicon Manniae that its consecration took place nineteen years after this date. It is difficult to understand in what state the original gift was, during this great hiatus between Olave’s grant, and the foundation date of the chartulary, unless we assume the existence of a prior house, which was ignored by the Furness chronicler on account of its poverty and insignificance. Viewing the unsettled state of the times from Olave’s reign to the year 1238, the poverty of the inhabitants, the troubles of the age, and the insecure condition of the throne of the Isles, we are led to the belief that the obstacles in the way of an earlier development were insurmountable. The parent monastery does not appear to have rendered any assistance, and the isolated position of Rushen debarred it from participation in the wealth, which, at that period, the kings and rulers of the earth were lavishing with bountiful hands on the monastic institutions of Britain. In connection with this subject it would be interesting to inquire whether any monastic establishment existed prior to Olave’s gift ; but unfortunately there are no documents extant, throwing any light on the question, so that we are left entirely to conjecture, or the misty regions of tradition, to arrive at anything like a satisfactory conclusion. Tanner, in his Notitia Monastica, informs us that a religious house was commenced at Rushen as early as 1098, by MacManis, governor of the Isle; but upon what authority he makes this statement does not appear. If Tanner be correct, this was the year in which Magnus undertook his great expedition to the Western Isles, and landed in Man to re-establish his authority, somewhat endangered by intestine strife. He put down the feud between MacManis and Other, and shortly afterwards sailed for Ireland, where he perished. The monkish chronicler who narrates these events is altogether silent as to the foundation of a religious house by MacManis, which, had such really been the case, he would not have failed to record. A curious fact, however, in connection with this subject, is the mention of a monastery at Rushen called St. Leoc, in a bull of Pope Eugenius the Third, in which he confirms to Furness the gift of Olave, from the lands of Carnecset, to the above house. This seems to strengthen the popular belief in a religious institution prior to Rushen, and at all events is very remarkable.

The original establishment consisted of an abbot and twelve monks, who followed the Cistercian rule. The service of the Abbey was conducted as follows —The bells rang for matins on holy days and festivals at five o’clock in the mornings. After matins the bell rang again for the Mary mass, and at eight o’clock for the souls of the departed. The sacrist provided fresh water every morning for the baptismal font and for holy water, and attended to the candles at the high altar, when required. To him was entrusted the burning lamp before the holy sacrament, and the washing of the vestments of the altar. He provided palms on Palm Sunday, kept clean the holy Evangel, and walked before the choir in processions, with a wand in his hand.* The abbot, in right of his position, was a baron of the Isle, and held courts leet and baron, of which Bangor, Sabal, and St. Trinions were the chief, and the Seneschal president. In consequence of some of the abbey tenants having to pay lord’s rent, the southern Deemster, Comptroller, and Attorney-General attended ex officio, in behalf of the lord’s interest. Hence arose the singular enactment, " that if any abbey tenant trangressed the law, so as to forfeit either life or goods, if he paid rent to the amount of one penny,—although he held an estate under the abbot,— the forfeiture fell to the lord and not to the abbot." The fees to the Deemster and Comptroller from the abbot were One pound six shillings and eight pence per annum, and from the baronies Thirteen shillings and four pence.

The annexed account of the Jocalia, given by Mr. Cumming as bought by the Earl of Derby at the time of the dissolution, is interesting :—" Four chalices, one chrouche or abbot’s pastoral staff, one censer, one cross, two small head-less crosses, one ship or incense box, one hand, one Bysshope hede or reliquaries, four cruets for sacramental wine and water, eleven spoons, two standing cups, two covered poculcs or small ale cups, one flat pece or drinking cup, one salt, two masrs or silver-mounted drinking vessels, and one silver pix or box for the sacrament."

There were four religious houses in connection with Rushen,—Becmachen, in Kirk Arbory, a house of Grey Friars, founded in 1373 ; Dufglas, a temporary monastery in Douglas ; the Nunnery ; and Mirescoge, now Ballamona. At the time of its dissolution, in 1553, there remained in charge Henry Jackson the abbot, James More, John Allowe, and Richard Nowell. To the first of these was given an annual stipend of £10 in lieu of his charge, and to the others £2 13s. 4d. each .

To Elena Calcote, the abbess of the Douglas Nunnery, £3 6s. 8d., and to Margaret Egliston and Agnes Inlowe, religieuse, £1 6s. 8d. each.

Thus passed away Rushen Abbey, after an existence of 315 years from the foundation date of the chartulary.

* Cumming’s Rushen Abbey.


Back index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 1999