[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #4 1926]


By W. C. CUBBON, March 19th, 1925.

Very early in life I found myself, not through inclination entirely, but, rather by virtue of circumstances, in charge of the very historic and interesting estate of Rushen Abbey, No one with any imagination could fail, under these circumstances, to take a very lively interest in everything appertaining to that property. I seem to have been the clearing-house of ideas and facts that have been contributed from time to time by many enthusiasts and experts who have visited and examined what is left of the religious institution men such as the late Dr. Cochrane, president of the Royal Antiquarian Society, Ireland; Professor Keith, president of the Royal College of Surgeons; the late Lord Raglan, Rev. Canon Quine, Mr P. M. C. Kermode, and Mr Archibald Knox. I take this opportunity of acknowledging the debt that is owed to these eminent men, together with many others to numerous to mention. If I might be allowed to particularise, I would mention the greatness of the debt owed to Dr. Cochrane. It was he, acting as a physician, who practically told us to discard most of our preconceived theories, which were dear to us. He told us that, in his opinion, the buildings still standing were mainly, if not entirely, outside the sacred precincts, and were purely secular, This, of course, was a disappointment, but was necessary. He also, as a true physician, indicated the lines of truth, which were followed, with the result that we were then in a position to follow our research in a systematic manner, which resulted in the discovery of certain remains that enabled us to reconstruct the plan of the Abbey, and to prove our re-construction. Examination and excavation were carried on to a certain point during the winter of 1913-14, but were, however, discontinued, owing to the Great War, which naturally brought work of this kind to a sudden close. The work already done, however, was of great importance, and, although it was not completed, was sufficient to establish the general plan of the Monastery, which proved to be in perfect harmony with the requirements of the Cistercian Order, which Order is noted for the rigidity with which it controlled the general plan and the detail of its monasteries throughout the whole of Europe, which consisted of a set of buildings in rectangular form. Taking the chancel and nave, which were oriented according to the sunrise of the day of the saint to which the monastery was dedicated, as a base, the chapter house was at right angle north or south, followed by the fratery, according to the convenience of the site; the kitchens at right angle to the fratery, the lay brethren's quarters parallel to the chapter house and fratery, and connecting up to the nave of the church, thus forming a square with the cloister garth in the centre.

The foundations of the chapter house and the other buildings were discovered, in the case of Rushen Abbey, to lie on the south side of the church, the foundations of which, together with those of the fratery, have been exposed, the east cloister walk being plainly indicated. On examining the section of the east cloister walk, a water supply and drainage system were discovered, and are still there. The water supply is of particular interest.. It is a cement-lined channel, 9 in. by 9in., and covered completely by a 6 in. coating of clay. The drainage is a triangular channel, 9 in. x 9 in. deep, but not cement lined or clay covered. Neither of these channels was followed beyond the confines of the cloister walk, but the drain indicated a considerable capacity. It was flushed with many gallons of water without there being any sign of overtaxing it.

As regarding the character of the buildings, the general feeling of the un-instructed when visiting Rushen Abbey is one of disappointment at the primitive character of those still standing. This, of course, is natural, as the popular idea of a monastery is no doubt based on the remains that still exist of the great monasteries on the mainland, which generally indicate the existence in long time past of stately buildings. These stately buildings will be found to be the remains of the Benedictine and other wealthy Orders. The abbot of the Benedictine monastery lived in great style, paraded the country in his scarlet robes followed by a retinue of knights and men at arms, with all the display of princely power; and, as a protest to this, the Cistercian Order came into being. It was founded in, or about, the year 1098, by St. Robert, Abbot of Citeau, near Dijon, which was the first Cistercian monastery. The story of its foundation is interesting. A certain young Benedictine monk, by name, St. Bernard, was much distressed at the worldly splendour displayed throughout Europe by the Order to which he belonged. He sought to convert it to its original simplicity by preaching, fasting, and hard personal living, and after years of effort in this direction he gave up the task with a broken heart, and, in his old age, retired to poverty and seclusion. He was joined by a young man, St. Robert. 'These two men seem to have come to the last degree of emaciation and distress. The old man went one way and the young man the other, to find food. The one came back with a crust of bread only, the gift of poverty; and the other, St. Robert, with plenty, and who, being asked by his master from whence it came, described how he had met a Benedictine abbot and his immense retinue, to whom he applied for help for his dying master, and how the abbot had thrown to him of his wealth. His master refused to benefit by gifts received from such a source. This so impressed St. Robert that he, also, dedicated his life to simplicity, which resulted in the founding of the Cistercian Order by the establishing of a monastery, at Citeau, from which place the Order takes its name, and which place was named after the character of the land on which it was built, which means the "water-logged place," and still survives in our word cistern, being a water tank, The connection is simplified when we remember that the Romans drew their water supply from the natural cisterns, or water-logged country. The reason for St. Robert going into the swamps was to get away from the temptations of the world; and, when one comes to consider the conditions that prevailed in those days, the swamps were the most inaccessible places that could well be found.

This cult of simplicity seems to have captured the youth of the time, and rapidly spread over Western Europe, monasteries being founded from time to time, invariably in the swamps, and arrived in the isle of Man in 1134, thus taking only 36 years in reaching the shores of this Island-possibly one of the most remote places to be found.

The Monastery of Rushen Abbey was built on a site that had already been given in the year 1098, for religious purposes, which date curiously coincides with the year of the establishment of the first Cistercian monastery in Citeau. It is obvious, therefore, that the original donor had not a Cistercian monastery in view when he dedicated his gift for religious purposes.

It might be well at this point to try to get some conception of affairs obtaining in the Isle of Man at that date. It had been for a matter of 250 years under the influence of the Norwegian Vikings, who were of a hardy, impulsive, and quarrelsome nature, constantly at war among themselves and with their neighbours. 'Their constitution was such that strife was inevitable and peaceful settlement impossible. Every male issue, whether legitimate or otherwise, had equal rights to the Throne. This, of course, rendered the position of any reigning monarch most precarious and subject to attack from his own kith and kin, and maintained a warlike spirit which found itself unadaptable to peaceful pursuits, and which made the raiding and robbing of their neighbours most attractive to their disposition, and the recognised method of acquiring wealth. All settlers on the coast line lived in hourly dread of their raids.

In the year 1111, Olaf I became King of Mann. He was the third son of Godred Crovan, and came to the Throne through the fatal quarrelling of his brothers, Lagman and Harald. Lagman, being the eldest, reigned for seven years, but, in accordance with the habits of the time, his brother Harald rebelled unsuccessfully, and was taken prisoner and shockingly mutilated, and rendered incapable of further usefulness to himself or his people, or the further propagation of his race. Lagman repented and sought forgiveness in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he died in 1075. The above-mentioned Olaf I does not appear to have commenced his reign until 1111, but the people of the Isle of Man were fortunate in getting a thoroughly peaceful and lovable monarch. He must have come under the influence of the simplicity and religion that was spreading over Europe, and which resulted in a forty years' reign of peaceful prosperity and happiness, and the building of the Cistercian monastery at Rushen Abbey in 1134. From this date onward the influence of the Cistercian Order made itself felt in all directions, more particularly politically and socially. It might be well to consider these two aspects very closely.

King Olaf, being of a highly religious temperament, appears to have been extremely generous in his gift of lands for the establishment of a religious institution. In 1134, he caused the Abbey to be built under the supervision and authority of the Abbot of Furness, seven years after the establishment of that monastery. The influence of Furness was thus early established in the Isle of Man. Calder Abbey may have been the first-born of the children of Furness, and Rushen Abbey the second-born, unless it should happen that they were actually twins, as they both came into being in 1134.

King Olaf does not appear to have confined his generosity to the Isle of Man, as another chapter witnesses his having already given a portion of his lands to Furness. He seems to have been much under the influence of the Abbot of Furness, as he confers the honour of the election of the Bishop or Abbot of the Isle of Man to the Abbot of Furness, and has him enrolled under the Abbot of Furness, by letter addressed to Thurstan, Abbot of York, in 1134. Olaf I seems to have been particularly generous in his gifts of lands during the last years of his lifesufficiently so to come under the notice of the Pope of Rome, who, in 1153, two years after the death of King Olaf, confirms to the Monastery of Furness the various gifts that had already been given by him, comprising large tracts of land, including quite a number of 'villas,' Malew being one. The Pope was, perhaps, anxious to secure that the succeeding monarch, Godred II, would find it difficult to cancel the gifts bestowed upon the Church by his father. Godred II was also generously inclined towards Rome, as, in 1176, on the occasion of his marriage, he bestowed further lands in Lezayre, but the monastery there was not long in being merged into the monastery of Rushen.

It will be observed that Rome was getting a very powerful footing in the Isle of Man, and continued to do so increasingly. In 1188, Reginald 1, on his succession, confirms the gifts of his grandfather, Olaf I, and the time had arrived for the enlargement of its buildings to meet the requirements demanded by an organisation so important, as, in 1192, the monastery was transferred to Douglas for four years, during which time the monastery of Rushen was rebuilt and enlarged.

It will be observed that for the past 120 years the monastic influence had been developing under the rule of the Manx Norwegian Kings, who had been enthusiastic and generous supporters of the Church influence until it had become the dominating factor in the country. In the year 1218, however, to be precise, on March 6th of that year, Olave II, who was then the reigning King, was evidently proving himself a defender of his temporal powers, as it is on record that he received a warning from Henry III, King of England, ' to keep his hands off the abbot and monks of Furness.'

The little Isle of Man, at that early date, was, apparently, seeking to cast off the Romish yoke. From this time onward, the fight between Church and State was carried on, very much to the advantage of the Church for many years, but eventually to its complete destruction.

In the following year (1219), Reginald, King of the Isles, had to admit to Honorius, Bishop of Rome, that he held the Isle of Man in fee for the Romish Church, and had to promise to pay 12 marks, yearly, on the Feast of the Purification, to the Abbot of Furness. This payment was actually made in 1223, and an acknowledgment of the dominion of the Romish Church was thereby admitted.

In 1224, May 15th, the Pope of Rome, through the Archbishop of York, dismissed Nicholas, Bishop of Man, from his Bishopric, thereby enforcing dominion, spiritual as well as temporal.


The Church, having established beyond question that the Isle of Man was held under fee from the Pope of Rome, then proceeded step by step to put this authority into practical effect, as, in 1246, King Harald made a further gift to the abbot and monks of Furness of all the mines within his kingdom, both beneath and above the soil, and three acres of land, to build a house for the storing of the minerals and other properties, and further released the abbot and monks from all taxation. It is hardly reasonable to presume that these important gifts were made voluntarily, but, rather, under stress, indeed to such an extent that the Norwegian Kings of Mann became practically bankrupt, having divested themselves of their wealth and power, which became complete at the death of Magnus, in 1250. Thirty-four years later, in 1290, all the people inhabiting the Isle of Man admitted themselves subject to Edward I, King of England, in a letter dated from Rushen Abbey, no doubt under the dictation of the Abbot of Furness, as, in 1299, we have a record that Marc, Bishop of Sodor, admits that the gifts of the Churches of St. Michael and St. Maughold, in his Diocese, to the Abbot and monks of Furness, were done of his own entire free-will. One is bound to be sceptical of the free agency of a giver when a declaration to that effect has to be made, and, indeed, anyone making such a declaration must have done so under very severe compulsion.

We have now arrived at the point when the Norwegian line had lost both its temporal and religious footing, the former passing to the King of England, who gave it to his favourites, and the latter being absorbed by the Pope. This, however, did not end the strife between the Church and State, which was still carried on for centuries, during which time the Abbots of Rushen, holding baronial powers, were in constant conflict with the rights of the Lords of Mann. This is borne out by a record of January 17th, 1417, when the judge of Mann and the 24 Keys declared that 'any tenant of the Lord who flees to the Abbot may be required to return to the administration of the law, and, if the Abbot protect them, he is liable to a fine of forty shillings for each case, and the forfeiture of his liberties.' Again, in 1419, it was enacted that the Abbot shall have no title on any person born out of the country that cometh into the land. He ought to be put on the Lord's farm before any other, thus securing the Lord's labour to the disadvantage of the others. Again, in 1422, the Abbot was obliged to hold an inquiry to discover and yield to the Lord his dues. The same year the sanctuary did not avail in matters of treason. The same year, the Abbot of Rushen and Prioress of Douglas did fealty to Sir John Stanley, King of Mann. In fact, throughout that year, special stress seems to have been given to the fact of the Abbot's subserviance to the Lords of Mann. He can receive no monk to be resident without the Lord's licence; nor even a stranger may pass into his premises without the Lord's consent-what they are, whence they come, whither they shall go, in what condition they are of. The Abbot was forbidden to receive any outlaw without the Lord's special pardon. He was forbidden to take out of the country more than five pounds, except in merchandise. These restrictions culminated in a riot in the Abbot's Court, in 1430, were William McCowley, in-dicted by a jury of 12, for felony, struck Donald McCubbon, one of the jurymen, with a staff, and felled him to the ground. All these restrictions resulted in the complete confiscation, by Henry VIII of England, in 1537.

From the foregoing it will be seen that the political influence of the Abbot of Rushen passed through the phases of a gradual increase of power, to complete control, culminating at the death of Magnus, m 1256, and the collapse of the Norwegian line; then a gradual diminution under the English control, which was completed by the wholesale confiscation by Henry VIII.

The political influence within the Isle of Man of the Abbot and monks of Rushen, is, of course, an epitome of the political history of the Church of Rome upon the history of the British Isles. The special influence of Cistercian principles and ideals was not very great upon the political problem. The social influence, however, was very strongly felt. Those of you who have followed what has already been said will remember that the Cistercian Order was the direct outcome, and a revolt against, the worldly pomp and display of the Benedictine Order, which revolt captured the imagination of the young men of that time, and, as is usual in revolts of this kind, the pendulum swung to the opposite extreme. The movement reached the Isle of Man in an incredibly short period, 36 years. This, to my mind, is remarkable when the means of commnication at that time is taken into consideration.

It would serve a useful purpose if we were to get some idea of the mentality of the people of the Isle of Man, under the Norwegian rule. This hardy race could not settle to peaceful pursuits; they gloried in strife, and not only did they thoroughly enjoy the raiding of the settlements along the coast line, but were at constant war with each other. So keen was their desire and love of chieftainship, and to ensure that the blood of the ruling chief should never be missing, that, early in the 9th Century, the policy of the line of succession being confined to the eldest male issue ceased, as being too precarious to suit the violent condition of the day. The policy that every male issue, whether legitimate or otherwise, should have equal rights to succession, was adopted. This change, although it had the advantage of securing against extermination, had also the disadvantage of too many claimants. It was only necessary for some unknown seeker after power to lay claim to sovereignty-even though his claim may have been a bastard one-for such a claimant to receive the support of the disaffected and jealous members of the rival clans, which split up the whole race into small communities of raiders. This was the condition of the country in the Isle of Man immediately prior to the establishment of the Cistercian Order at Rushen, and the advent of the three brothers already mentioned, named Harold, Lagman, and Olaf, sons of Godred,

It may be difficult to the casual observer to associate the lands round about Ballasalla and Rushen Abbey with the idea of swampy land, but anyone who knows the actual geography of the district would soon realise that it would take very little labour to bring it back to its original condition. One must allow one's imagination, therefore, to picture these highly enthusiastic young men settling themselves down in such a district. From the information gained by excavation, they had laboriously to carry over the swampy land large stones, many hundred-weights in weight, to form a foundation on which to erect their buildings. Their architecture from the very beginning was of the simplest possible style, and strictly in accordance with the recognised plan which had been established by the Order, which consisted, as has already been said, of a rectangular set of buildings with the cloister garth in the centre, comprising the church on one side, chapter house and fratery on the east, the kitchens parallel to the church, and the workshops parallel to the chapter house and fratery. These comprised the monastic buildings proper. Outside of this square, and conveniently situated, were the secular buildings and offices, comprising, amongst others, the refectory for the entertainment of guests and travellers, the Abbot's house, and, in the case of Rushen Abbey, at any rate, the pigeon tower, and also the corn mill, the latter being situated in such a place as was convenient for the construction of a dam, from whence they drew their water supply, and to enable them to use water power. The whole of the buildings were of the most simple character, no ornamentation of any kind being allowed, Dressed stone was used only to a very limited extent, indeed, prohibited. The regulations regarding towers were, however, modified as the Order in process of time amassed wealth, and these towers became necessary and permissible as a means of defence. The tower at Rushen Abbey shows that it has been increased in height at two distinct periods, and it is on record that the Abbey, on Ascension Day, 1316, was raided by Sir Richard de Mandeville and many other outlaws from Ireland, and plundered of all its furniture, cattle and sheep, leaving nothing whatever. The destruction seems to have been even more complete than this, as this entry is the last in the chronicle. What became of any subsequent records kept, by the monks of Rushen is a profoundly interesting speculation. Were they hidden with other property against a repetition of such an event, or did they form a part of the ' ships full of documents that were sent across the seas by. one John Bale, a grocer and soap seller, to the bookbinders, in 1549?'

Of course, the monastic Orders, particularly the Benedictine Order, were originally founded upon similar lines of simplicity, but as they amassed wealth they departed from their original conception. Very great care, therefore, seems to have been taken by the founder of the Cistercian Order, St. _Robert, to secure that it did not fall from its high ideal in a similar way. ti rigid system of inspection was instituted whereby the parent monasteries annually inspected their offspring, with the very remarkable and wise difference from the system adopted by other Orders, that the Cistercian monastery was subject to a re-inspection of the parent by the offspring, thus ensuring that the higher authorities did not themselves break away from the conception of simplicity. Should the Abbot of Furness see fit to chastise the Abbot of Rushen, one can rest assured that the Abbot of Rushen would not spare him on the occasion of his inspection of Furness. Simple as the buildings of Rushen Abbey were in themselves, they nevertheless formed a stately pile, and it is only reasonable to assume that these simple buildings would have an influence upon the architecture of the Island, which was characterised by the extreme simplicity of its churches and other buildings. Even to this day the churches that are being built from time to time are of the severe type of architecture, and I venture to assert that an ornate sacred building would be out of place in the Isle of Man, It is reasonable to assume therefore, that the influence of the Cistercian Order is still felt in Manx architecture.

The popular idea that the monks settled themselves comfortably down on a rich land beside a good trout river is quite erroneous, They made the land productive by hard labour and hard living. Their whole life was governed on the principles of personal poverty and hard labour. They were not allowed to eat meat; their clothing was made of pure unbleached wool, and regulations were made, prohibiting the dyeing thereof. This frugality, together with hard labour, could not fail but to culminate in the amassing of wealth. They drained and cultivated the swamps, turning them into gardens, thus further increasing the wealth. gained from gifts, etc. These men did not remain entirely within the walls of the monastery; a certain proportion of them moved about to the various farms that were owned by the Order, which were numerous, the larger farms, or granges, being in charge of a resident monk. We have this word ' grange ' still preserved in the various Granges or Ballagranges that are still known by that name, The smaller farms were visited by visiting monks, from time to time; these men moving about the country were bound to leave their impression upon those with whom they came in contact. I venture to assert, therefore, that the Cistercian Order has left its permanent mark upon the character and every-day life of the true Manxman, who is to this day an essentially frugal, hard living, and cautious man of the farmer type, with more than a mere religious bias. Not only does he bring these characteristics to bear upon his farming, but, when his energies are diverted into other channels these outlines go with him, and these qualities, to my mind, seem to be the principal factors that have enabled the little Manx nation to survive and maintain its character, in spite of the inflowing of the foreign element invading our shores from year to year.

We have, at some considerable length, considered the Cistercian Order of Monks from its political and social aspect, and found, I believe, that it exercised a very great influence on the political and social life of the people. It would not be right to pass from this subject without considering it from a religious standpoint. It goes without saying, of course, that the Cistercian monk was imbued with a spirit of religious simplicity, and was a religious enthusiast. He did not neglect his religious devotions either inside the monastery, where such devotions were compulsory, or outside its confines, where his life might be considered more or less free. The visiting mo;iks as they travelled from farm to farm on their tours of inspection would certainly not neglect the devotional office of their mission, but would, without doubt, call together for religious worship the workers engaged upon those farms. The centuries of this influence could not fail to make an impression upon those people, and which is felt to the present day. The Maiix people, in addition to being a frugal, hardworking, law abiding cautious people, are also highly religious, every village containing several places of worship, and, wherever there is a collection of two or three houses, the chapel is usually to be found. Not only is the chapel to be found, but the preacher also. The conducting of a religious service and the preaching of a sermon are powers that may reasonably. be attributed to the Cistercian influence, The religious buildings of this Order were simple, unpretentious, and severe in their character, and any other style would be out of keeping. I, therefore, assert that the true Manxman still retains his roving (he being found all over the world), hardy, Norse characteristics, upon which is super-imposed the frugal, religious, and simple influence that was so pronounced in the Cistercian Order of Monks.

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