The first crusade began in 1096, and the church had a new lease of ascendency. That year, Eudo Dapifer, on the fourth of the kalends of September, had the site fixed and the work measured out, in the presence of Maurice, bishop of London, of his weightiest religious enterprise, namely, the building from his own resources of the famous abbey of St.John the Baptist.
Says Weever, in his Funeral Monuments:
‘Without the walls of Colchester, stood a large and stately monastery, which Eudo, sewar to King Harry I, founded and consecrated to the honour of Christ and St.John Baptist, wherein he placed black monks’.
Tanner in his Monasteries gives the information that the abbey was of the order of St.Benedict, But it is in Dugdale's Monasticon, as might be expected, that fullest details are to be found. Besides the account of the foundation, it has the Latin charter by which the founder endowed, with lands and other properties, this abbey which he built to preserve his memory, and, in the words of undoubtedly the monastic writer, suae animae suffragia aeterna preparare.
There is the usual miraculous “business”, without which a monk would no more think of narrating than Livy could forego his prodigies. On a little hill to the south-east, where Siricus the presbyter dwelt, there was a wooden church, consecrated to St.John the Evangelist. Here in the darkness of the nights, and they were apt to be very dark then without the gates of walled cities, lights were seen to shine mysteriously, and voices praised God inside of the wooden structure, seemingly without human or monastic agency. It was distinction to places to have direct communication from above, and St.John's became one of the lions to frighten all the unbelievers. But this was not its best honour in thaumaturgy.
Peter, Paul, and many others, in favoured times and localities, had supernatural interference in their favour, in the way of sudden freedom from chains and prisons. A man here, whom the record does not credit with any particular saintliness, experienced what was sufficiently similar, in a desirous scene, to be reckoned miraculous.
‘Quidam vir, qui jussu regis erat compeditus et vicissim alebatur a civibus, dum quodam die festo Sancti Johannis adesset ibidem cum multis, subito dum missa celebraretur pessulus boiarum ultra quartum vel quintum assistentum exilivit, et boiae cum, sonitu fractae sunt, et homo solutus astitit.’
The whole civitas, it seems, exulted in this miracle. But more than enough of such introductory flourish.
Eudo might not as a politic mind object to fame of that kind, but it was his delight in the amenity of the situation which made him build his abbey on the site of this highly-favoured shrine. It was 1097 before the foundation stones were ready to be laid in grand state. Through the multitudes usual to great occasions, a procession of nobles and their ladies made their way to the place where the symbolic, and some actual, work was to be done. Eudo himself placed the first stone of the edifice; Rohesia his wife the next; Count Gilbert of Tunbridge and Clare, the brother of Rohesia, the third. These proper ceremonies completed, the work began to show its proportions, but it was not till 1104 that the pile was finished.
During the years of building this sister abbey to Westminster, he had grave political troubles; but something must now be said of the peculiarly irritating ones he met with in arranging proper clerical service for the foundation on which he was expending so much of his mind and means. His particular friend, Gundulph, bishop of Rochester, first came to his aid by sending him two monks. These Eudo treated too kindly, admitting them to the luxuries and delight of his daily routine and personal presence.
‘Jeshurun hath grown fat and kicketh’. The monks soon began to grumble, even at the Norman's cooks, and weariness and departure inevitably ended the absurdity. Several others were sent to fill their place, with an energetic and religious leader, by name Radulph.
He after some time began to press Eudo, who had been very friendly with him, as to the inconvenience of the monks being supported by the laics. Though then, so to speak, in political chains, Eudo did what he could to take away this reproach. He gave the fruits of ten churches on different parts of his estates; but, by reason of the distance from the various counties in which they lay, and more likely by the extravagance and improvidence of the collectors, very little leached the abbey. The result of this and other things was that Radulph and his party also left. The actual building was lagging through these private as much as Eudo's public difficulties. He began to consider that at least he could get rid of this voluntary tax on his spirits. But the abbot of York came to the rescue. He sent Stephen, a monk, with twelve others, and the services were kept up.
Eudo also, at this time, induced a relation, of his own temper, William Sinclair, a priest, to oversee the workmen; and he spared no means or pains till the last touch was put to the splendid edifice. Its first abbot, Hugo, was consecrated by Maurice, bishop of London, in 1104; and the founder's joy and special munificence, on the occasion of the first full services, are especially remarked upon by the chronicler. He gave various lands and tenths, and had the further satisfaction of seeing his example liberally followed. There was a grievance of the townspeople that some of their land was seized by the authorities of the abbey; he sent money directly from his own treasury, and satisfied them all. The final dedication was made on the fourth of the Ides of January, “with the great glorying and the deep devotion and praise of the populace”. The religieux, from York soon after joined Abbot Hugo, Walter senior and Osmund senior, who in the happy circumstances would be able only too speedily to form a staff. But not yet were the dapifer's annoyances over. His approved abbot, Hugo, got timid about the hot questions between Eudo and King Henry, and retired to York again, leaving the Parthian arrow of a formal deed of cure of this cenobium, the heart-work so long of the founder, to the king. No doubt in the circumstances it was the safe thing for himself to do, and it is probable Eudo knew humanity too well to blame the weakness.
He did not lose faith in religion for all his disappointments. The secular storms passed away from his noble life, and his devotion and liberality to sacred causes still increased from year to year, as he went towards the end of his earthly course.
The substance of his chief charter may be given. “Charter of Eudo Dapifer concerning the foundation of the church of Saint John of Colchester”, is its heading in the Monasticon. It begins,
‘Eudo, the dapifer of my lord the king of the whole Anglican kingdom, to all the faithful of God, now and for ever, salvation. Since by the overflowing clemency of the divine mercy, He has gifted me in this life with many benefits, though undeserving; and, created out of nothing, He has enriched me with the amplest honours, with lands, and with abundance of riches; mindful from such great beneficence why I should very specially offer to the Lord, the King of kings, for all the things which He has granted to me, I considered frequently in the most watchful mind. Opportunely the helpmeet of my pious devotion, with zeal from above, insinuated that piety in this matter would be acceptable for her, and of saving influence for me, if showing to the Lord, the King of kings, for His goodnesses and gifts, zeal for religion, I should offer a monument of piety’, etc.
It is possible this is enough of what may have been rather the usual legal form of such institution rather than an expression of the peculiar character and sanctity of the present donor. There is a temptation to give him the benefit of the judicious gravity and serene thoughtfulness of such introduction, but it might not be honest to do so, however consonant the sentiments are with his known character. This passage has at least as much of him in it:
‘I have built a church near Colchester in my fee, by God's help, and I have placed in it men, religious after monasterial ritual, and with my most pious lord, Henry, king of the English [Anglorum inclusive of Normans then], permitting it, I will grant lands and other returns for the salvation of my same lord, King Henry, and of Matilda his queen, and for the peace and stability of this kingdom, nor not also for the redemption of the souls of his antecedent rulers, of his father and his mother, the great King William, and Matilda, queen of the same, besides for the saving of the soul of King William, his brother and predecessor, for me myself in addition, for my wife Rohesia, and for all our ancestors and descendants. In all devoutness I have offered these’.
Next follows the list of his gifts.
‘The four manors of Willege, Brichling, Mundovor, and Picheford he gave whole, except the fee of a Radulph in Picheford, and the portion of Ailwin, a socman. He gave the marsh of Lillecherche which afterwards went with Picheford and Hallingbery, with all its pertinents. In his Colchester fee he gave two carucates of land, one dwelling-house, two vivaria, one mill, one wood, and money to feast the people four days at the birthday of Saint John. The rest are the whole fee of Turstin Wiscard; the land of Ranulph de Broc; in Turncrust the church of that town; one hide of the land of Esse (probably the Ashe of Hampshire, which his father Hubert of Rye, the first Sinclair proprietor on English record, got) and also the tenth of its cheese, wool, and wood; of Lillecherche the tenths of the mills and cheese and wool; two parts of the tenths of Berton and Sandford; of Etonia the half tenths and the whole tenths of the mills; the tenth of the swine food of all his groves and parks on the Essex side of the Thames; of Standeie two parts of the tenths; and of Hamerton and Estune, ditto; of Nieveseles the church; of Walden the tenths of the mill and of wool; two parts of the tenths of Hallingbery; the third part of the tenths of Sabricheworth; of Takelee two parts of the tenths; Royages all the tenths; Waltham three parts of the tenths; Witham two of tenths; Cresswell, Estanweya, Lereden, the same; Grinstede all the tenths; in any one of those manors a croft of two acres free from all secular or feudal services, except in the three manors around Colchester, and Witham, Waltham, Sabricheforth, Waledene; the whole tenth of Eudo's swine-feeding and brood-mares and mills; the church of St.Helen and the fourteen acres belonging to it; the church of St.Mary, Westcheap, London, which was then called New Church, with the concurrence of Ailward Gros, the priest, who had the presentation of the living from Hubert Sinclair of Rye, Basse Normandie, the father of the dapifer; the church of St.Stephen above Walebroch; Eudo's stone-built house, probably his town mansion near New Church, with its appendages, and six acres of land which was that of the woman Alveva, a widow; all the fruits of all the chapels in his manors on the Colchester side of the Thames, and particularly the offerings on principal feast days of those serving God, the monks there to transmit the same.’
This is the tale of his gifts at that time, and he closes the charter with perhaps a usual form also.
‘These portions and returns of my fee and barony, I have granted freely to God and His most blessed forerunner John. If anyone add to them, may God add good days to his, and eternal life; if anyone take from them, or rob, or damage, etc., let his life be shortened, and let him have his portion with Judas, Dathan, and Abiram, unless he make amends to God and Saint John.’
But perhaps enough of what is rather heavy legal reading. Of his other foundations, little of the documentary kind can have survived; and it may be as well, for he might become too much a quarry for inane, professional, or antiquarian struggling, as to the exact meaning of Latin terms to things which are as changeful in their substance as almost the words themselves. Fortunate abbey of which the above is only one specimen of many grants. But for it also time has been too strong.
Like the gorgeous palaces which leave not a wrack behind, all of it was out of being in 1724, except its beautiful gate, of which there is a print extant, of that period. Much either way cannot be taken as to its earlier wealth from the valuation in 26 Henry VIII (1535) of its annual income at £523, 17s. Always in one of the hottest political and clerical districts, its fortunes would be as varying as those of the great families, for most part, who lived and died within its range.
Morant, the best Essex authority, has noted the important fact that both a William and a Hubert de Sancto Claro were also markworthy benefactors of this monastery, certainly members of the name subsequent to the founder. He had a list of all the benefactors of the abbey given him, after his book was written, by Lord _, which he inserts as an appendix of great value. Greenstead manor is there granted by Hubert de Sancto Claro, and also Lexden mill, while Stokes manor is the gift of Hamo de Sancto Claro. Morant's own research discovered William Sinclair as one of the donors of the monastery.
Other houses, churches, and chapels there are still some fragmentary evidences to prove that Eudo either built, or aided to build, but his religious fame now is eternally associated with the abbey of St.John Baptist at Colchester. He is among those who gave charters to Glastonbury Abbey, and Ordericus Vitalis makes him one of the founders of Lessay Abbey, but this has been challenged as confusion of Eudo Dapifer with Eudo an Chapeau, though the challenger does not seem competent enough to condemn so established authority. Tanner in his Notitia Monastica for fair example of really unsatisfactory scraps, queries whether the pillory of Cluniac monks of Reydon St.Peter's, Wangford, Suffolk, said by Leland the antiquary to have been founded by Doudo Afini, steward to the king's household, was not one of Eudo Dapifer's foundations. Bishop Herbert gave a charter to Norwich in the reign of Henry I, where Eudo's signature stands immediately after that of Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, the founder of Thetford; and out of respect to him, Tanner theorises that the dapifer might have given that priory to this monastery. Perhaps such probabilities are worse than worthless; at all events, in illustrating the character of a man whose actions can be measured on authenticated facts. Matthew of Westminster, in his Flores Historiae, recounting the monasteries built in Normandy before the Conquest, has,
‘But Eudo built the church of the Holy Trinity, with the chapel, at Exaqueum’. His work was not confined to England in this kind.
Nor did he limit himself to religious foundations. The hospital for the sick has in France sometimes, if not always, the beautifully appropriate name of “Hotel de Dieu”, or “house of God”. Such a house Eudo established during the reign of Henry I, and with his special sanction, for people infected with the contagious disease of leprosy, which, from whatever cause, not improbably from Saxon filth or excess with its alternating poverty, must have been common then here. To save Saxonic feeling, it is quite possible to suppose that Easterns, even in the army of Hastings, said to have been widely gathered in one at least of its wings, or Westerns themselves who had been crusading in the East, were the bringers of this frightful disease of humanity. Froude has suggested want of vegetables. Institutions imply something indigenous rather than passing or exotic, as to this English leprosy; but in any case the question is one of peculiar social interest to those who are devotees of ethnologic and related science.
The building was dedicated to St.Mary Magdalene. It was without the town, and ruled by a master, probably leprous like his unhappy companions. In 28 Henry VIII (1537) its endowments gave an income of only £11 a-year; but though this is a far larger sum for the practical buying of food and clothes and medicine than all but experts can now imagine, there is little doubt that the place was kept up, as some of our similar houses are, by voluntary contributions. A satisfactory way of explaining the possible dwindling down of its income to such a sum would be by discovering that the better blood and habits of the true Englishman, of as well-mixed a race as his thorough-bred nonpareil horse, had banished the loathsome disease to its native or chronic regions, and that the building was dying of having nothing more to do.
There is a statement that Eudo had to build it as a punishment for the political quarrels between himself and the commanding, unforgiving, sullen, but able Henry. If so, a better method of making peace could not be invented; for it was work not penible, but we well know wholly according to the man's heart. Independently or by regal command the foundation is equally a tribute to him as a great soul. The hospital of St.Mary Magdalene at Colchester, for leprous persons, stands as an early beacon in England of the medical sanitary science and humanity which have made the poorest of lives worth living, if the present and the past could only be well compared.