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A Legend of Reading Abbey by Charles MacFarlane




The Author of 'The Camp of Refuge.'

London: Charles Knight & Co., Ludgate Street. 1845.



It was in the year of Grace eleven hundred and thirty-seven (when the grace of God appeared to be entirely departing from the sinful and unhappy land of England), and Stephen of Blois, nephew of the deceased King Henry Beauclerc, sat upon the throne, lawfully and honestly, as some men said, but most unlawfully, according to others. And the woe I have to relate arose from this divergency of opinion, but still more from the change-ableness of men's minds, which led our bishops, lords, and optimates to side now with one party and now with the other, and now change sides again, to the great perplexing of the understanding of honest and simple men, to the undoing of their fortunes, and well nigh to the utter ruin of this realm, which that learned clerk and right politic King Henricus Primus had left in so flourishing and peaceful a condition.

Our great religious house of Reading (may the hand of sacrilege and the flames of war never more reach it!), founded and endowed by the Beauclerc, had then been newly raised on that smiling, favoured spot of earth which lies on the bank of the Kennet, hard by the juncture of that clear and swift stream with our glorious river Thamesis; and in sooth our noble house was not wholly finished and furnished at this time; for albeit the first church, together with most of its chapels and shrines, was in a manner completed, and our great hall was roofed in, and floored and lined with oak, the lord abbat's apartment, and the lodging of the prior, and the dormitory for the brethren, and the granary and the stables for my lord abbat's horses, were yet unfinished; and, except on Sundays and the feast days of Mother Church, these parts of the abbey were filled by artisans and well-skilled workmen who had been collected from Windsor, Wallingford, Oxenford, Newbury, nay even from the right royal city of Winchester, which abounded with well-skilled masons and builders, and the capital city of London, where all the arts be most cultivated. Moreover, sundry artists we had from beyond the seas, as masons and hewers of stone, who had been sent unto us from Caen in Normandie by the defunct king, and some right skilful carvers in wood and in stone, who had been brought out of Italie by Father Michael Angelo Torpietro, a member of our house, who had quitted the glorious monastery of Mons Casinium, which had been raised and occupied by the founder of our order, the blessed Benedict himself, when he was in the flesh, in order to live among us and instruct us in humane letters and in all the rules and ordinances of our order, wherein we Anglo and Anglo-Norman monks, in verity, needed some instruction. And this Father Torpietro of happy memory had also been enabled by the liberality of our first lord abbat to bring from the city of Pisa in Italie a right good limner, who painted such saints and Virgins upon gilded panels as had not before been seen in England, and who was now painting the chapel of our Ladie with rare and inappreciable art, as men who have eyes and understanding may see at this day. All the learned and periti do affirm that for limning and gilding our chapel of the Ladie doth excel whatever is seen in the churches of Westminster and Winchester in the south, or in the churches of York and Durham in the north, or

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