[from D. Robertson, Tour, 1794]
THE ABBEY - ITS ANCIENT DIGNITY - REFLECTIONS ON MONASTICAL INSTITUTIONS-AN INTERESTING STORY.
AT a little distance from Balasalla is pleasantly situated the venerable abbey of St. Mary of Rushen, founded in the year 1098, by one Mac Manis, a person whose wisdom and virtue raised him, by the universal consent of the people, to the diadem of the Isles; and from founding this monastery, it may be presumed, that his piety was not inferior to his other virtues. This religious establishment consisted of an Abbot and Twelve Monks; who at first lived by their manual labour, and denied themselves the indulgence of wearing shoes, furs, and linen; or of eating flesh, except on journeys. But this apostolical mode of living did not long continue. Their primitive humility, labour, and self-denial, soon yielded to Monastick pride, luxury, and indolence. Their revenue was increased by a third of the tithes of the whole kingdom of Man. Magnificent buildings were added to the original edifice. Their rooms became more sumptuous; their habit more commodious; and their table far more luxurious. Their orchards, which from situation were finely sheltered, became more spacious and abundant; while their extensive lands, from cultivation, grew every day of greater value. Their temporal dignity was also increased. The Abbot became a Baron of the Island; was invested with power to hold temporal courts in his own name; and could exempt his own tenant, although a criminal, from the sentence of the Lord's Court; and try him by a jury of his own vassals.
However highly we may condemn that plenitude of power, with which the dignitaries of the church were formerly entrusted) however justly we may accuse them of ambition, indolence, and sensuality: let us not obliterate their virtues, by a remembrance of their crimes; but recollect, that from the barbarity of Goths and Vandals, Science, with her beauteous train, sought an asylum amid monastical gloom and superstition; from whence she afterwards burst on an admiring world, in all her light and beauty. Nor were those institutions unfavourable to humanity, considering the ferocity of the ages to which we now allude. The stranger frequently blessed the hospitality, and the poor the bounty, of the Monks; while the sick were visited, and '' the oil " of gladness" poured into the wounds of the afflicted.
The Monks of Rushen-Abbey were of the Cistercian Order; and were not inferior to their brethren in hospitality and beneficence; for, according to an ancient writer, "they were accounted the Almoners of the "Poor." The election of their Abbot was generally sanctioned by the approbation of the Abbot of Furness; to whom not only this Monastery, but perhaps even the Bishoprick of the Island was in some degree subject *.
Many of the Kings of the Isles being interred in this Abbey, it was not only liberally endowed but richly decorated. In the year 1326 it was however plundered by Richard le Mandeville; who, with a numerous train of Irish, landed at Rannesway on Ascension-day; defeated the Manks, and ravaged their country: however, after a month's residence, he reimbarked with his people for Ireland.
Rushen-Abbey, with the adjoining lands, is now the property of the Deemster. Every vestige of its interior magnificence has disappeared; but the ruins of this venerable monastery still retain an air of gloomy grandeur.
The Abbey-Bridge is situated in a romantic spot, and by the Manks is esteemed of great antiquity. Near the Monastery is strewn a tomb-stone of one of the Abbots, which is distinguished by the pastoral staff and a broad sword; denoting he had as well temporal, as spiritual, authority. There is, however, no date or inscription now visible.
Before I leave this once-hallowed place, it may not be improper to present the reader with a short piece of monastic history; which shall be given without any comment; premising only, that there are still some vestiges of a subterraneous road, leading from the abbey to the castle, that seem to confirm what tradition has preserved.
In the thirteenth century, Ivar, a young and gallant knight, was enamoured of the beauteous Matilda. Her birth and fortune were inferior; but his generous mind disdained such distinctions. He loved, and was most ardently beloved. The sanction of the king was alone wanting to consummate their happiness. To obtain this, Ivar, in obedience to the custom of the Island, presented his bride to Reginald, a gay and amorous prince; who, struck with the beauty and innocence of Matilda, heightened by an air of modesty, immediately, for some pretended crimes, banished Ivar from his presence, and by violence detained the virgin. Grief and indignation alternately swelled her bosom, till from the excess of anguish she sunk into a state of insensibility. On awakening, her virtue was insulted by the approaches of the tyrant. She was however deaf to his insinuations; and only smiled at his menaces. Irritated at her contempt, and flattering himself that severity would subdue her truth and chastity, he imprisoned her in the most solitary apartment of the castle; where, for some months, she passed the tedious night and day in tears; far more solicitous for the fate of Ivar, than affected by her own misfortunes.
In the mean time, Ivar, failing in an at. tempt to revenge his injuries, assumed the monastic habit, and retired into Rushen Abbey. Here he dedicated his life to piety; but his heart was still devoted to Matilda. For her he sighed; for her he wept; and to indulge his sorrows without restraint, would frequently withdraw into the gloomiest solitudes. In one of those solitary ramble he discovered a grotto, which had been long unfrequented. The gloom and silence of this retirement corresponding with the anguish of his mind, he sauntered onward, without reflecting the subterraneous path might conduce him. His imagination was pourtraying the graces of Matilda, while his heart was bleeding for her sufferings. From this reverie of woe he was however soon awoke by the shriek of a female. Advancing eagerly, he heard in a voice nearly exhausted-" Mother of God! Save Matilde !" while through a chink in the barrier which now separated them, he saw the virgin, with dishevelled hair and throbbing bosom, about to be sacrificed to the lust and violence of Reginald. Rage and madness gave new energy to Ivar; who, forcing a passage through the barrier, rushed upon the tyrant; and, seizing his sword, which lay carelessly on the table, plunged it into its master's bosom.
The tyrant died: and the lovers through this subterraneous communication escaped to the sea-side; where they fortunately met with a boat which conveyed them to Ireland: and in this kingdom the remainder of their years was devoted to the most exquisite of all human felicities; the raptures of a generous love, heightened by mutual admiration and gratitude.
This is the substance of the tradition; but according to some of the Manks records, Reginald was slain by Ivar, not in the castle of Rushen, but in a neighbouring meadow. This variation of the scene however does not materially affect the credit of the tradition; as the Manks historians impute Reginald's death, not so much to Ivar's ambition, as to his revenge of private injuries.
The following account of this Abbey is taken from Tanner's Notitia Monastical
"Russin or Rushen, Cistertian Abbey. A religious foundation is said to have been begun here A. D. 1098, by Mac Manis, Governor of the Isle; Olave, King of Man, giving some possessions here to the Abbey of Furness, in Lancashire, Ivo or Evan, Abbot there, built a Cistertian Abbey here A. D. 1134, to the honour of the blessed Virgin, and made it subordinate to Furness. A. D. 1192, the Monks removed to Dufglas or Douglas; where they continued four years, and then returned to Russin, and flourished there till some time after the suppression of those houses in England.