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Illuminated InitialAt the commencement of the twelfth century, Rahere or Raherus, who had been jester and minstrel to Henry the First, obtained from that monarch permission to found a Priory. The site, also given by the king, was without the city walls, not far from one of its gates, on a morass, which extended some considerable distance. Stowe tells us, that in his time, there was a great water here. The spot being intersected by many brooks, much difficulty was experienced in forming even a foundation; but after the expenditure of a considerable amount of time and labour this was accomplished, and a grand building arose of which we purpose to speak, and whose noble remains testify to its simple, solid grandeur, and cause us to regret that so little is left to us of the original structure.

Rahere, we are told, was a man “sprung and born from low kynage,” not having cunning of liberal science—but that is more eminent than all cunning—for he was rich in purity of conscience. His goodness showed itself towards “God by devotion, towards his brethren by humility, towards his enemies by benevolence.” And thus himself he exercised them, patiently suffering; whose proved purity of soul, bright manners with honest probity, expert diligence in divine service, prudent business in temporal manifestations, in him were greatly to praise and commendable. In feasts he was sober, and namely the follower of hospitality. Tribulations of wretches, and necessities of the poor people opportunely admitting; patiently supporting, competently spending. In prosperity not yre prided; in adversity patient.

Such is a simple outline of the character of the man by a contemporary biographer after his conversion; he having passed the flower of his youth amidst the licentiousness of the soldiers’ camp and the feudal castle, and joining in all the wild revelries of that time.

It is related he was wont to haunt the households of noblemen, and, when under their observation, to spread their cushions with gapes and flatterings detestable, anointing their eyes by this manner to draw to him their friendship. He also frequented the King’s Palace, and by his suavity and intelligence forced himself amongst the noiseful press of that tumultuous court, into the presence of the king, and became his minstrel.

At length he felt the emptiness of all these pleasures and excesses, and their inability to suppiy his soul’s longings, and became “penytent of his synnes ;“ “the inward seer and merciful God of all, the which out of Mary Magdalen cast out seven fiends, the which to the fisher gave the keys of heaven, mercifully converted this man from the error of his way, and added to him so many gifts of virtue.” Influenced by the spirit of his age he undertook a pilgrimage to Rome, and there, at the shrine of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, he, weeping his deeds, prayed to our Lord for remission of them.

While at Rome he was seized with a grievous sickness, which brought him to the verge of the grave. In his extremity, being full of dread on account of his unatoned sins, he vowed that if health God would him give that he might return to his country, he would found an hospital for the benefit of poor men.

His prayers and repentance were heard and accepted for not long after the benign and merciful Lord beheld this weeping man, gave him his health, and approved his vow. After this Rahere beheld a vision, full of dread and sweetness. “It seemed to him that he was borne up on high of a certain beast, having four feet and two wings, and set him in a high place; and when he from so great a height would inflect and bow down his eye to the lower part downward, he beheld a horrible pit, whose beholding impressed him with great dread, for the deepness of the same pit was deeper than any man might attain to see; he deemed himself to slide into that cruel adowncast, and therefore he quaked, and for fear trembled, and great cries out of his mouth proceeded. To whom appeared a certain man, in majesty like a king of great beauty and imperial authority, and fastened on him his eye.” “0 man,” he said, “what and how much service shouldst thou give to Him that in so great a peril hath brought help to thee?” Anon he answered to this saint, “whatsoever might be of heart and of might, diligently should I give in recompense to my Deliverer.’

And then said he, “I am Bartholomew, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, and come to succour thee in thine anguish, and to open to thee the secret mysteries of Heaven; know me truly, by the will and commandment of the Holy Trinity and the common favour of the celestial court and council, to have chosen a place in the suburbs of London at Smithfield, where in my name thou shalt found a church. The spiritual house Almighty God shall inhabit and hallow it, and glorify it. Wherefore doubt thee nought, only give thy diligence, and my part shall be to provide necessaries, direct, build, and end this work.”

Rahere came to London deeply impressed with this vision, and often spoke of the work he intended to do to the Nobles and Barons, and also to the King, since the place where he was to erect his building was contained within the King’s market.

The King lent a willing ear to his petition, and granted him permission to build the Priory on the spot desired. It was on a very marshy piece of ground, water everywhere abounding; the only land above the water dry was deputed and ordained to be the gallows of thieves, and to the torment of others that were condemned by judicial authority. The work undertaken by him required a large amount of labour and perseverance, and like all earnest men he set to work with the determination to conquer all difficulties, and at length succeeded in raising a glorious fane.

It is recorded, that feigning himself an idiot, he collected daily a little band of children, lepers, and poor people, and with these efforts gathered stones from the waste and morass around for the use of his building, thus showing the many dimculties with which he had to contend, both from man and the spot where his church was to be built. Rahere feigned himself an idiot, to hide from his enemies, who were numerous about the court, his ultimate design, and also to enlist the sympathy of the people, for in that superstitious age it was believed that idiots were under the care of a special providence.

Rahere at length cast aside his assumed idiotcy, and began his Apostolic work by instructing with cunning of Truth, and saying the word of God in divers churches, and constantly exhorting the multitude both of clerks and laity to follow and fulfil those things which were of charity and alms deed. He did not make these appeals in vain, and his purity was not unknown at Court, and after patient waiting and labour, his church was founded in March, Anno Domini 1113 [sic; date of foundation is generally given as 1123AD].

The edifice was of comely stonework tablewise, and an hospital house a little longer off from the church, which was founded for the service of the poor, the sick, and pregnant women, with the care of such children, till seven years old, as lost their mother at birth. The year of its completion differs as given by various authorities, but about 1123 is the generally received date at which the Priory was finished. The completion of the work under all the circumstances and difficulties, created a great amount of wonder and admiration, mixed with superstitious awe, its grandeur astonishing the beholders by its contrast with the desolation that previously reigned around.

[tbird notes: Normanus is confused about his dates; later researchers take 1123AD as the beginning of St. Bart's building period, and 1133 as the year in which it is most likely to have been consecrated.]

Rahere was appointed first Prior. He was Prior 22 years and 6 months, and was succeeded by Thomas, one of the Canons of the church of St. Osyth, who continued prelate about 30 years; in age 100 winters when he died. We then have Gregory, Canon of St. Osyth, made Prior 1213, who a few days after became monk at Abingdon.

Licence to elect a successor was granted by the King in 1256 on the cession of Peter, 40 Henry III. Robert, the Sub-prior, was elected, and the King consented Nov. 23 of that year.

Gilbert de Woledon was appointed 46th Henry III, The King gave his consent, and restored temporalities Nov. 24.

John Baccen was elected 48th Henry III., Jan. II, 1264.

Edward I. granted a license to elect a Prior March II, 1295, on the death of Brother Hugh. IIth Edward II. the King was advised of the death of the Prior, and granted a license to elect another Nov. 4, 1317. be continued...

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