Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Ghostly Monk of Hailes Abbey, Cloucestershireire

An altogether more serene spectral visitation from the turbulent times of the Reformation is to be found at Hailes. The Cistercian Abbey that once dominated this charming village was founded in 1251 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, as a result of a vow he made when being shipwrecked off the Isles of Scilly. The earl endowed the abbey generously and arranged that it should be dedicated by none other than King Henry III himself. In its day, this was a fine abbey and one of the richest in Gloucestershire. In 1271 the east end of the large church was rebuilt in the latest fashion to house a most sacred relic, brought all the way from Constantinople (now Istanbul), then capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire which ruled much of the eastern Mediterranean. This was a small glass phial containing drops of the blood of Christ.

The monks were almost wiped out when the dread Black Death struck England in the 14th century, but one survived to pass on to the new clerics the relic. In 1539 the monasteries were closed down by King Henry VIII. Once again, only one monk remained at Hailes. Like his fellows he had been pensioned off by the king in return for agreeing to the closure of his abbey. But this monk remained for a reason. He watched while a furnace was setup on the site of the high altar to melt down the lead roofs and while the stones of the church were carted off for use elsewhere.

All this time the lone hermit hoped for the restoration of the Catholic faith and, meanwhile, he kept hidden that sacred glass bottle so that it would not be destroyed by the Protestants who thought it a fake.

That lone monk is long dead, but he is not gone. He still walks the ruins of Hailes Abbey, which stands close by the Norman parish church to which the monastic stained glass was moved when the abbey was closed. This phantom monk has a mission. He still guards that sacred glass flask of blood. It is carefully hidden, even the archaeologists who excavated the ruins did not find it. Most of the visitors who today wander the romantic ruins do not even know it is there, never mind make any effort to find it. And if the ghostly monk has his way, they will not find it even if they look.

This is an extract from Haunted Gloucestershire by Rupert Matthews.

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