The Abbey’s story

Will holds at the edge of the green lawn.
Surprised John and Edith look at the ruins that cover the vast terrain. Of course they knew houses made of stone, but these were usually just one storey high. In rare cases there was a 3-storey tower, with an additional wooden structure on top of it. The buildings they are currently looking at must have been gigantic in the past! Steep walls everywhere, high windows, big doors, huge buttresses to support the walls… Such an overwhelming thing they’ve never seen before!

Will waits relaxed until they recover from their first amazement. These remnants had also made a big impression on him, but that’s been many years ago already. Since then he has taken the time to find out some of the history and the backgrounds. To him, this place is still a source of inspiration for his meditations. He feels the voices of the past echoing their stories about human vanity, envy and narrow-mindedness.
You are going to Landsgate. Before that city on the coast became so important, this abbey was the administrative center of the region. Actually, in the wider area everyone worked for the abbey. Monks helped the people to increase the yield of the land, or to improve the quality of goods. They were the spiritual beacon for all who needed help, and they also rolled up their sleeves where necessary.
Edith looks around admiringly. “That sounds almost ideal. How can something so great then fall into disrepair? ” But John sees something else. “Well, for sure they also helped out of self-interest: higher revenues and invisible control. This is not just neglected and then fallen into disrepair! Just look at the damage. This has been willfully destroyed! ” Edith takes a closer look, and only then sees the blackened traces of fire and the signs of a knocked down building. Will follows her gaze, and nods in that direction. “Once a huge church stood there, probably a cathedral. It is indeed deliberately destroyed.” In the silence that falls, the drama seems to come alive again. Angry voices, raging flames, the roar of collapsing buildings, cries of fear and pain. Edith shivers. Now it looks so peaceful and idyllic. She doesn’t understand what happened. Will sees her confusion, and begins to explain patiently, as if talking to a few students. It’s also nice to share knowledge and experience with younger people so that they learn something from it for the future.

If you ask me what ultimately caused this destruction, I would say stagnation.” His companions look at him in amazement. “You have to understand,” Will continues as he gestures around him, “that all this has not just arisen. As with everything, there was a reason for it, born from a need. Long ago this was a sparsely populated area, with here and there a farmer, a hunter or a shepherd. People always settle where there’s sufficient space and safety, and the country can provide their food. At some point in time also a few missionaries will have come. Not that there was much to be gained or to be reformed here, but the Church wanted to spread itself and to that end purposefully built a network of support points for travelers, pilgrims and traders. The collection and dissemination of knowledge also ran via that network. It’s a lucky combination of a number of factors, such as the favorable climate, the fertility of the soil, the friendly attitude of the residents, the physical absence of those in power, which makes such a missionary post slowly grow. First a shabby hut for a few monks, then an extra building for industry and craft, followed by a chapel that grows into a real church. The people here have always had that pragmatic approach: if something yields no harm, they just absorb it. They embraced the preached religion, and accepted the church’s obligations in exchange for help, knowledge, medical care and so forth. Thus a community was formed in which each contributes something useful, and of which everyone can reap the benefits.

Of course such a growing and flourishing community acts like a magnet on other people who all want to snatch their share of prosperity. No doubt, the number of religious also increased. They arranged and organized everything, and thus were able to collect the majority of the profits. Welfare grew, and in order to strengthen the Church’s powerful position, a tangible and awe-inspiring monument had to be erected: the abbey. Costs and effort didn’t matter, and people from the surrounding area came to help because they were honored to make a contribution. As benefit they received food and shelter, and most of them also learned a craft, such as stonemason or carpenter. You can still see how magnificent all this was. This is the result of a positive, streamlined cooperation, in which people as a group excel beyond their normal capabilities to create something that otherwise wouldn’t be possible at all.

They walk on until they reach a large wooden cross. It is a well-known symbol, but why is it right there, so lost in the middle of a field? Of course, Will knows an answer to this. “According to tradition, the remains of a legendary monarch are buried here. Apparently these had been wandering around for a while, from one cemetery to the other tomb, and then again being tucked away in a crypt somewhere. The abbey saw a great opportunity to emphasize worldly leadership on behalf of God in addition to being His spiritual representation. When they were powerful and important enough, they claimed the remains, arguing they’d offer a final resting place. I suspect this has generated some envy. From that moment on, the atmosphere became a bit grimmer and differences of opinion arose more clearly. ” They sit on a bench in the shade of a leafy tree, and Wil continues his explanation. “The monks of the abbey steered everything, arranged everything, and checked everything. In addition, they preached their religion with a message of hard work for each other and for God. Austerity and avoidance of sins was regularly emphasized. Knowledge development and financial management they kept in their own hands, even though they made people learn a trade, and earn a bit of money for themselves. Never too much, because that puts a person in temptation. So the ordinary man developed relatively quickly, after hundreds of years of standstill and resignation. They thought more critically, asked questions about everything, and noticed how the abbey arranged their lives in detail. The people did not lack anything. But when the basic necessities of life are fulfilled, automatically a need arises to take care of your own family by yourself. You want to be more independent. It was questioned whether that spiritual welfare, which the monks always preached, in fact served just the power and wealth of the Church. It seemed to the people that their personal religious experience was used as a divide and conquer strategy to let them all slavishly follow the guidelines of the abbey. Why shouldn’t they retain more wealth themselves? Choose which food to grow? Think together and acquire more knowledge? Meanwhile, the monks of the abbey wanted to keep everything the same. They forgot why the abbey initially became a succes: cooperation and service to each other. Two camps grew apart from each other: the religious and the rest. When the grumbling became too emphatic, the abbot decided to hire mercenaries as a kind of security service. I suspect that only sporadically a local resident was included in that group. From now on, if necessary, people were forced to follow the rules of the abbey. For a long time that was enough to discourage too great changes in daily life.

John looks around. “When then a revolt was there? Have the mercenaries turned against their bosses? ” Will shakes his head. “No, mercenaries have the pleasant habit of always staying close to wealth, and protect that with their lives. Other than that, they don’t care who their boss is. Some may have been truly religious, but for most people it was just a job. No, the danger came from a completely different corner. ” Will takes a short break while Edith distributes some water around. Then the story continues. “The abbey was established right here for a reason: the network of the Church. That had a spiritual purpose: pilgrims and monks could go anywhere via the nodes, and knowledge was collected and passed on in all directions. In many places libraries were created and people studied on the mysteries of life. The scattered hamlets in the vicinity of this abbey already housed many families. With so much trade and industry that was not enough, and so the development of a city was unavoidable. Many do business with the abbey, but are not religious or even have a completely different faith. They mainly seek protection against robbers or pirates. Or against injustice of which the Church merely says that you should treat your enemy as a friend and then turn the other cheek. That doesn’t help if among the sheep there are a few wolves doing whatever they want. It requires a different kind of justice. ” Will points in the direction of the city where they are heading for. “Up there, at the mouth of the river, there is a place that is easy to defend, and which also lends itself as a harbour for goods transport. First there was a reinforcement built, high on the cliffs, and next more and more houses arose in the neighborhood. They built quays and a wall, and later even more of these. As the city grew, it became more important. The residents no longer worked just for the abbey, but also for themselves and other Landlords. A government was created, led by ambitious warriors and traders. The doctrines and customs of the abbey were a thorn in the eye. They had already allowed a church building, but did not want their own power and self-determination to perish. After the mortal remains of the monarch had been taken in by the abbey, envy also increased: the city would never become as rich as the abbey because the necessary knowledge was lacking. You may have guessed what happened next: the administrators continued to raise the dissatisfaction of the civilians and people of the country, the abbey insisted that the city should adhere to the ecclesiastical rules, and eventually a mob moved on to this complex. The mercenaries did what they were good at. They stopped the parade long enough to steal majority of the abbey’s wealth, and then disappeared quickly. The citizens thus found an undefended abbey, with defenseless monks who chaotically tried to cope with the rebellion and to secure what could be saved. When it became known that many valuables of silver and tin had disappeared, the crowd exploded, and the destruction began. Many monks could escape through the network that they had built themselves. But the abbey, and especially the cathedral, were demolished. So you can say that the resistance of the monks to change was the reason for other people’s need for progress, and this eventually led to their downfall. Where once people jointly had built something that was timeless and greater than themselves, now other people by joint effort were able to destroy in one night what seemed untouchable for many years.

John is impressed with Will’s story. It clearly shows the shortcomings of people when they have to work together. In relatively small groups this still goes well, but the larger the community, the more impersonal it is. Then other things start to play and more conflicts arise. It is amazing what man can do, but it’s just as horrible what that same creature so unthinkingly destroys, only focused on his own right or the denial of his own guilt. Power is a many-headed monster. Money is an unreliable seductress.

What transcends us, sits inside of us.

For Edith, the spiritual aspects of the story are interesting. Many people are religious, without being truly ecclesiastical. Is that wrong? From her perspective you experience religion from within, and not by following given rules and dogmas. Everyone knows that there is more than we see. But what transcends us already lives inside of us, and does not sit  like a god on a holy mountain. For Edith, being religious means above all discovering that inner source of power and dedicating it to the environment to live from. She believes that if everyone acts this way, an ideal society will emerge. By relying on a higher power located outside themselves, however, people reduce faith to a circus. Despite the words of the great prophets, they forget what really matters. They distort the wise words, establish laws and rules on the basis of narrow minded interpretations, and then use faith for their own gain or to oppress others. She notices that her original sympathy for the monks is shifting to the city dwellers. Freedom is also a great good, which should not be restricted.

Will takes them to the interior of the ruins, where via stairs they descend to what used to be the cellar vaults of the abbey. He points to the remains of cells, where the most fanatical monks went into retreats, and the sources that supplied them with water. Then they enter a large vault which ends in a deep niche containing a marble tomb. A round arch, decorated with strange symbols, forms the entrance. The tomb itself is bare, without text or ornaments, and in comparison with the rest of the rubble intact. Will remains thoughtfully at a respectful distance. As if they sense that something special is going on here, Edith and John do the same. “Do you also feel it? ” Will asks. “It seems like a force is resting here. Something that makes us quiet. ” John agrees, and sees Edith is almost hypnotized by the sight. “I have not yet been able to discover what or who is buried here. On the basis of a few signs I’m almost certain that it’s a woman. Those symbols are old, much older than the Church, so it is amazing that they were placed here in the abbey. Because the tomb is undamaged, you might think that it was placed after the destruction, but that is not the case. I think that the revolution came to an end here because of the same power we experience. That therefore still a lot of walls stand up as if the job isn’t finished. Was the abbey purposely erected around this place? Or was an unknown saint laid to rest here? Descendants of one of the prophets, perhaps? There are many legends going around. The truth will always remain hidden from us. ” Will turns and goes on the way back, with John and a hesitant Edith behind him. “Later, when you’re in the town, think about this tomb again. It will give you peace in that metropolis of love and violence, of wealth and poverty, of knowledge and stupidity. I still don’t know what is better: the permanent structures of the abbey or the continuous change and the lack of stability in the city. You will experience that when you are there!

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