Thursday 30 January 2014

Sutton-at-Hone Commandery

In 1199, Robert de Basing gave his manor at Sutton-at-Hone to the Order of St. John. The Hospitallers built their commandery using materials recycled from the Roman villa at Darenth. Pieces of Roman tiles and concrete are visible in the flint walls. The commandery was surrounded by water, on the western boundary by the River Derent and on the other three sides by a  moat fed by the river. Henry III often stayed at the Sutton Commandery, he enjoyed the right of free entertainment.

The chapel is the only part of the commandery buildings still standing. A round stone basin for the priest to wash his hands has been dated to c1200 and another wedge shaped basin for the Paten and Chalice has been dated to a later date' possibly to 1234, when Edmund Rich became Archbishop of Canterbury and insisted upon greater reverence during the Mass. That was the same year that the king ordered five oaks be provided for re-roofing the chapel, which had only been constructed a few years earlier.

After the Order of St. John was suppressed in England in 1540 the Commandery of Sutton-at-Hone became Crown property, and most of the domestic and ancillery buildings were demolished, the stone being reused for new buildings in the same way the Hospitallers had reused the Roman villa. It seems that here at Sutton-at-Hone as in other Hospitaller sites, the chapel was spared  for reasons of superstition. The former chapel was  later incorporated into the fabric of a mansion house.

Saturday 25 January 2014

St. Mary North Petherton

The minster Church of St. Mary at North Petherton  was already ancient when in 1166 William de Erlegh included it and its five dependencies in his foundation grant to Buckland Priory, a house of Augustinian canons. In 1180 the Augustinians were replaced by Henry II with the Sisters of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem or Knights Hospitaller. For the next 350 years the Hospitallers were the 'patrons' of  North Petherton Church and appointed its vicars.The Order of St. John built the present church in the mid 15th century and the beautiful tower a few years later, at the beginning of the 16th century.

In the late 12th century the vicar received £39 2s a year out of which he owed a pension of £3 8s 3d. to the sisters of Buckland Priory. He did however receive an allowance of hay from the priory. At times the prioresses of Buckland and the vicars of Petherton enjoyed somewhat strained relations. In the 1450's the prioress had to sue the vicar Sir Robert Norys, because he hadn't paid her the stipend due from  parish revenues.

In 1383 an eight year old girl was placed in the priory of Buckland, 'with the connivance of the prioress' to deprive her of an favour of her uncle. Did Geoffrey Chaucer have this prioress in mind when he described the prioress in the Canterbury Tales? She was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the Canterbury Tales. He was warden of Petherton Park (a deer park), from 1390 until his death in 1400. The timber used in the roof of St. Mary's grew in Petherton Park, famous for its oaks. Geoffrey was succeeded as warden by his son Thomas who may well have overseen the delivery of the wood.

Friday 24 January 2014

Peckham Commandery

In 1408 Sir John Culpeper gave his holding in the manor of West Peckham in Kent to the Knights of St. John. The gift  included the manor of Stalisfield and the rectories of Rodmersham, Hadlow and Tonbridge and the chapels of  Shibbourn and Capell. By the time of the enquiry into the assets of the religious orders ordered by Henry VIII, the Valour of 1535, the Commandery of Peckham was valued at £63 6s. 8. a year.

The Commandery of Peckham belonged to that category of commanderies  reserved to the gift of the Grand Master that went by the name of  a Camera Magistralis. Pope Pius IV in his Bull "Cicumspecta" calls them "Preceptoriae et predia Mensa Magistrali unita." There were twenty-three of them in all, one in every priorate and they were let out on long leases. In return, the recipients had to pay  an annual pension based on the commandery's revenues. The income from these commanderies went to support the Grand Master and were neccessary to enable him to dispense the patronage and judicious gifts to friends that enabled him to govern the Order with increasing autocracy. So, the Commandery of Peckham was the magistral commandery in the Priory of England.

The oldest part of the commandery dates from 1408, but following a fire in 1500 the north range was rebuilt. In 1417 Sir Henry Crownhall was granted the Commandery of Peckham on a payment of 400 Venetian gold ducats paid to the Grand Master. The last tenants of the Magistral Commandery were the Bell family who held it for forty years, until the Dissolution, at a cost of £60 per annum. The former commandery is now a private house known as Duke's Place.

Monday 20 January 2014

San Anton Palace Gardens

Malta, the land of honey is famous for its roses and for its beautiful gardens. Most of them are hidden away behind high stone walls. But the loveliest gardens of them all, are surely those at San Anton Palace, Fra. Antoine de Paule's country villa, four miles from Valletta. There are the famous orange groves, magnificent specimen trees, fragrant roses and honeysuckle and vibrant beds of colour provided by massed plantings of pelagoniums and rampant climbers plumbago and bougainvillea.

While still the Prior of Saint-Gilles, Fra. Antoine de Paule had built himself a country villa at Attard. On assuming the magistry in 1623 he set about enlarging his house into a palace for entertaining his friends and guests. He bought more land and set about planting groves of orange, lemon and other fruit trees which he imported from France, Sicily, Spain and Italy.

He built fountains and pools stocked with fish from Sicily and laid out his lovely gardens, a plan of which, it is said, was sent by the Bailiff de Vendome to Louis XIV of France to serve as a model for the gardens at Versailles.

By 1625 most of the improvements at San Anton were completed, giving the palace the appearance it has today, although there were additional alterations and embellishments which have continued down to the present day. The palace has roughly the shape of a cross, with the four arms approximating to the four points of the compass. On the south east is the large courtyard that leads to the palace entrance. The spaces between the arms of the cross on the North east and North West and South West are the three private gardens.

The garden most often used for entertaining is the South West Garden divided into lower and upper sections by a stone colonnade. Here well watered lawns, a rarity in scorching Malta are shaded by magnificent tree specimens, some of which are hundreds of years old. A number of these trees have been planted by distinguished visitors over the years and are still flourishing. These include a Sapindus Indica planted by King Edward VII in !903. Araucarias were planted by Queen Alexandra in 1907, by the Duke of Coburg and Gotha in 1910 and by the Duchess of Cornwall and York in 1901. A Quericus Robur was planted by the Dowager Empress Marie of Russia during her stay at San Anton breaking her voyage into exile in 1919.An Accacia Farnesiana was planted by the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh to the commemorate the birth of their daughter, Princess Victoria Melita "which occurred in the Palace Antonio on 25th November 1876" has long since died, but the marble plaque remains to record the event.

The private garden to the North West is another lovely garden with flowers, fish ponds and majestic trees. Here there is a tree that was planted by the German Emperor Wilhelm II in 1904. Taking a walk through the gardens on Saturday 26th April 1919 the Empress Marie of Russia caught sight of the tree and jabbed at it with her parasol saying, "Why do you keep a tree planted by the Kaiser - horrid man - why don't you pull it up?" With the reply that it wasn't the tree's fault, H.I.M. just laughed and turned away.A high wall separates this garden from the orange and lemon groves beyond. Two oaks close to the tennis court were planted by Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1954.  The tennis court was installed during the time of Governor Bonham-Carter (1936-40)

A small door in the boundary wall, locked since time immemorial is reputed to have been used by Flamina Valenti, mistress of Fra. Antoine de Paule. The lady had been installed in a lovely old house in St. Anthony Street, that had a common garden wall with San Anton. Her assignations in the lovely gardens with the grand master drew the mounting disapproval of the Inquisitor Fabio Chigi (later Pope Alexander VII). Their none too discreet affair was reported to the Vatican on several occasions, she was described in one letter to Cardinal Barbineri as the 'Grand Master's prostitute.' On more than four occasions renowned beauty Miss Valenti entered the Convent of the Repented in Valletta, but only after Fra. Antoine died in 1636 did she become a nun.

The oranges grown at San Anton have long had the reputation as the finest fruit grown on the island. Whenever the grand master wished to pay a complement to a friendly power he usually sent a gift of San Anton oranges. The tradition continued during the British era when the governor usually sent a couple of crates of the fruit to reach London for Christmas. Grand Master de Rohan bought more adjoining land to increase the size of the orange groves.

It was in 1882 that an earlier governor Sir Arthur Bortor gave over the larger part of the gardens for the recreation of the public, including the menagerie and the aviaries that housed among other birds gorgeous Golden  Pheasants

 The kitchen gardens are aid out on the far side of St. Anthony Street at the western extremity of the gardens.The reservoir constructed in 1766, was later used a swimming pool, until 1970.

Sunday 19 January 2014

San Anton Palace

In Malta Grand Master Fra. Antoine de Paule is best remembered for his country house. San Anton or the palace of San Antonio is at the village of Attard, four miles from Valletta. A Frenchman from Provence Fra. Antoine de Paule ruled  the Order of St. John, and Malta from 1623 until 1636. While Prior of Saint Gilles he had already bought the land and built himself a modest villa, named after his patron saint. On assuming the magistry  de Paule enlarged his country retreat into a palatial residence, for entertaining his friends and guests in the princely style to which he became, rapidly, accustomed. Verdala Castle the old summer residence of the grand masters was too distant and far too austere to meet Antoine de Paule's desire for a convenient, retreat  from pressing affairs of state. On the day of his installation as grand master, 24th April 1623, Fra. Antoine  entertained 600 guests to a lavish lunch at San Anton.

Fra. Antoine de Paule was already an old man of seventy-three when he ascended  the magistral throne. But from the start he was beset by one embarrassment followed by another. He was forced to defend  his personal dignity and the sovereign status of his Order with the greatest vigour from the interference of  Pope Urban VIII and his rapacious nephews, the Cardinals, Barberini.The new grand master faced  serious charges of simony and bribery in obtaining his high office. Added to which, he also a reputation as a libertine and for shameless self-indulgence. In response De Paule sought to shore up his beleaguered authority by the assumption of ever greater luxury and ceremonial than any of his warrior predecessors had presumed. He dined under a crimson canopy and maintained an enormous household.

Grand Master Fra. Antoine de Paule

Elizabeth Schermerhorn catalogued the retinue which was fed and lodged by the grand master,"There was besides the Seneschal of the Palace, who was a Knight, and the Maitre de l'Hotel, the Grand Master's four valets and twelve pages, his five chaplains and two physicians and his confessor. There were twelve grooms and eight chausseurs and the guards of the Palace and of the falcons. And there was the Butler and the Steward, with three cooks and five scullions; there was a coffee-maker and a rat-catcher and a keeper of the storeroom; pantry servants and valets- de- chambres, besides book keepers and three secretaries (one for each of the languages represented in the Order.) There was also a game-keeper who gave our permits for the hunting season, which lasted from the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene to Easter; a fencing master and a teacher of "grammar" for the pages; a man toregulate the clocks, a house carpenter, and the drummers and trumpeters, and but one wig-maker - for the days of voluminous wigs was not yet dawned. Bread always played an important part in the economic life of Latin communities and accordingly we find, in addition to the miller and the man who gave out the corn and the man who pounded it and the six bakers, a whole retinue of people attached to the Palace bakery, solely engaged in the distribution of the bread, not only to the Palace, but to its retainers and to the poor and to certain orders of monks and nuns, to the hunters and gardeners and archers belonging to the Palace, and to the guardians of the Palace slaves; and there was a man who baked the bread for the hunting dogs. Add to this the people of the stables, the coachmen, saddlers, mounted horsemen, blacksmiths, farriers, and the twelve men in livery and twelve stable boys - it will appear that considerable "glosinge" was required  in order to make those vaunted vows of poverty cover the necessary state that waited on a Grand Master of the 17th century.

The new grand master converted his original house into stables and built a sprawling new palace radiating from a central square tower. He bought up more land which he added to the gardens. The palace was completed by 1625, although there have been alterations and additions since then. With the exception of the tower, the palace is built on two storeys. The ground floor accommodates the kitchens, stores and pantries, the offices, stables and guard rooms. The palace's two chapels are also on the ground floor. The palace's main reception rooms, two bedroom wings and the grand master's private apartments  are all on the piano nobile.

The main reception room is the Drawing Room, off the hall at the top of the entrance staircase. Surrounded on three sides by the arched veranda built by Captain Ball at the start of the British occupation the room has views over the surrounding gardens. The Drawing Room is furnished with a mixture of Maltese and English furniture and is used today for small receptions, of up to 150 people, and is the room where guests assemble before going into lunch or dinner.

The hall at the top of the entrance staircase is  used as an additional reception room when the size of the guest list demands it.

The banqueting hall, now known as the dining room is a large airy room with an alcove at one end supported by two columns, and a door at the other end that opens onto a small flight of steps leading down to one of the private gardens. Six full length portraits of grand masters, including Adrien de Wignacourt and Phillipe Villiers de l'Isle Adam line the walls.

The Octagonal Hall  also known as the Marble Hall features four alcoves, two of which are used for the display of a fine collection of Majolica vases manufactured in Caltagirone, Sicily. These vases were used for storing medicines and drugs at the hospital of the Order and were brought to the Palace from the Sacra Infermeria.

Double doors lead from the Octagonal Hall into the room used for official meetings and the signing of treaties and state papers.

The long room is an  informal  drawing room dominated by a full length portrait of de Valette on the battlefield. The room is also furnished with floral paintings, mirrors, an antique Maltese wall clock and two large inlaid Maltese chests of drawers. This  is where the president's guests gather after lunch, prior to  their departure.

De Paule  bequeathed the palace to his Order, its rents to be used for the maintenance of the galley fleet and so San Anton became the principal country residence of his successors. In the colonial era the palace was the official residence of the British Governors and today it is the residence of the head of state, the President of Malta.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Castellania, Rhodes

The Castellania is a square two storey building that stands on the main town square of Rhodes, the Knight's Magna et Communis Platea. The consensus among academics is that the Castellania was the courthouse of the Order, but dissenting voices have suggested that it may have been the Mercantile Court, the Basilica Mercatorum. Whatever the building's original use, even in its present condition, the Castellania remains one of  Rhodes most important civil monuments.

Most of the upper storey and part of the ground floor are now in ruins. The building was restored by the Italians occupiers after the upper storey had been used as a mosque with a fish market on the ground floor. The upper hall, above an arcaded loggia is reached by an external flight of stone steps.The entrance to the hall, at the top of the stairs, has a fine marble surround in the Renaissance style . The lintel above the door depit an angel holding the arms of the Order in his left hand and those of Grand Master d'Amboise in his right. The Renaissance style of the door way contrasts with the Gothic frame on the adjoining wall  that surrounds the arms of Grand Master d'Amboise and the date 1507. Carved  beneath the frame are the arms of Fra. Jacques d'Aymer de la Chevalerie.  There is an elegant window on the upper storey divided into four panels by a white marble cross decorated with fleur de lys carved in relief. At the centre of the cross is the monogram Jhs (Jesus Hominum Salvator) On the south front of the building  are three splendid water spouts in the form of crocodiles.

Inside the hall is a magnificent rare survival, a virtually intact early 16th century painted ceiling.

While the square, the Magna et Communis Platea was the centre of commercial activity in the town it was also used for public ceremonial. This was where the Ottoman Prince Zizim was received by Grand Master d'Aubusson on his triumphal entry into Rhodes in 1482. In 1522 the square was where the Greek Metropolitan attempted to raise morale with a speech to the assembled populace from the Castellania balcony and where he showed them the icon of Our Lady of Philermos.

Monday 13 January 2014

Sta.Margherita Lines (Firenzuola Lines)

The vulnerability of Vittoriosa to bombardment from the heights of Salvatore and Sta. Margherita was demonstrated in the Great Siege of 1565. For three months the Vittoriosa land-front was subjected to a continuous barrage, the guns only pausing to allow the Turkish infantry to attack. After the siege the fortifications of Vittoriosa were rebuilt and then strengthened by the addition of the cavaliers of St. John and St. James in 1588.  This however did not address the fundamental weakness of the site. The solution would be to deny the heights to the enemy by enclosing them in a new line of fortifications.

In 1638 Vicenzo Masculano da Firenzuola was invited to Malta by the Grand Master, Jean Paul Lascaris Castellar. He was an Italian born in 1578 who became a Dominican Cardinal and was later Vicar General of his Order. He was a friend of Galileo Galilei and was one of the most distinguished military engineers of the day. He placed his proposals before the Council on 28th September and recommended the encirclement of the Sta. Margherita hills. He envisaged a semi-circular enciente, enclosing Bormla, with six bastions and curtain walls linking them  to the Vittoriosa and Senglea land-fronts. The Council approved the plan and the foundation stone was laid, with due ceremony, by Grand Master Lascaris on 30th December 1638.

Sta. Helena Gate (1736)

The decision to implement Firenzuola's plan did not prevent criticism from other engineers, among them Claudio Riccardo, Domenico Guazzo and Nicholas-Francois Blondel. They considered  the design far too ambitious and costly. The critics notwithstanding, work on the lines continued until 1645 when a lack of funds caused work to stop. For the next twenty years the lines were all but abandoned.

Verdala Gate (1736)

Work on the Sta. Margherita Lines did not resume until 1715 under the direction of French engineer the Bali de Tigne.  During the magistry of Manoel de Vilhena the Sta. Margherita Lines were finally completed, in 1736.

Sta. Helena Curtain

Saturday 11 January 2014

Monolithos, Rhodes

The castle of Monolithos on the east coast of of Rhodes is the most  spectacularly sited castle on the island. Built on the instruction of Grand Master Fra. Pierre d'Aubusson, before the Turkish invasion of 1480, Monolithos was thrown up on the foundations of an earlier, Byzantine fortress. While Monolithos is in a ruinous condition, the curtain walls are in a fairly good state of repair and contain the remains of two chapels, dedicated to Saints George and Pantelemion. The Castle of Monoithos was never captured before the Knights withdrew their garrison, prior to leaving Rhodes in 1522.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Consuegra, Priory of Castile

During the Reconquista the kings of Castile entrusted the Order of St. John with a series of frontier castles, most of which they relinquished as the Christian frontier advanced. But in 1183 King Alfonso VIII of Castile bestowed on  the Hospital the definitive grant of the castle of Consuegra, together with a large frontier march that came to be known as the Campo de San Juan. This was the central area of a large expanse of border marches that were  entrusted to the military orders of Calatrava, St. John and Santiago. Consuegra became the headquarters of the Hospital in the kingdom, the seat of the Priory of Castile from 1187 until c.1287, and from 1517.

The Hospitallers had not long been established at Consuegra when the Christian advance was reversed by the Almohads who defeated the Castilian army at the battle of Alarcos (1195) and swept north pushing the frontier to the north of the capital Toledo. For seventeen years Consuegra was a beleaguered Christian outpost, although the Campo de San Juan was not conquered. In 1212 the power of the Almohads was broken decisively at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, at which the Hospitallers fought under the Prior of Castile, Fra. Gutierre Ermegildez.

In c.1187 the seat of the Priory of Castile was transferred to nearby Alcazar de San Juan. The Priory was to become, for over a century, the appenage of the ducal house of Bejar. When in 1482 Antonio de Bejar expected to become prior his accession was was opposed by the duke of Alba who had his own candidate, Don Diego de Toledo appointed, against the wishes of the Order, but with the backing of King Ferdinand and the acquiescence of pope Leo X. The dispute was only resolved in 1517 after Charles V had come to the throne. He ordered that the Campo de San Juan be divided between the two rival claimants. Consuegra became the seat of the prior of Castille, while Don Toledo resided in the palace of Alcazar de San Juan as the nominal prior of Leon. The division persisted until 1566.

The 16th century was to be the golden age of the order of St. John in Castile. While the national military orders went into decline after the end of the Reconquista and the annexation of their masterships to the crown, the gift of Malta by the Emperor Charles V to the Order of St. John and the strategic cooperation between Spain and the Knights gave new prominence to the Order. After the Siege of Malta in 1565 there was a surge in  membership of the Order in Castile.

The castle of Consuegra occupies a strategic position at the end of the Cerro Calderico, one of the long ridges that rise from the plains of La Mancha. It lies beside the main route from the capital, Toledo, to the south. The first castle at Consuegra may have been built by Roman Emperor Trajan, who was an Iberian. The Knights of St. John built the present fortress on earlier Moorish foundations. An indication of the importance Alfonso VIII gave to the presence of the Hospital on his frontier was the  award of the revenues from a tax gathered in Toledo, for ten years, to help with the cost of building and maintaining the castle's defences. Within the curtain walls are three internal wards and and inner enciente protected by strong impressive towers. Above the entrance to the inner enciente are carved in stone the arms of Don Juan Jose of Austria. In 1642 Philip IV conferred the Priory on his thirteen- year-old illegitimate son, Don Juan Jose of Austria, who became a confessed knight and grew up to become one of the great statesmen of his age.

Don Juan Jose of Austria
Prior of Castile
In the 18th century the Grand Priory of Castile  became reserved for royal nominees. Charles III appointed his second son, Don Gabriel, Grand Prior of Castile in 1766, and in 1785 he turned the Priory into a appenage of the royal cadet line, severing in all but name its link with the Order of St. John.

The Castle of Consuegra was badly damaged in 1813 during the Peninsula wars and has since been restored.

Since the 16th century, Consuegra has been famous for windmills. That is when the Knights of St.John built the thirteen windmills along the Cerro Calderico behind the castle of Consuegra. The ridge, rising above plains of la Mancha, is superbly placed to take advantage of the incessant winds that blow across the flat treeless plains, with nothing to impede its velocity. This technology, harnessing the wind for grinding corn was appreciated and utilized by the Hospitallers in Outremer, they built windmills on the ramparts of Crac des Chevaliers. On Rhodes they built windmills along the harbour moles.

At Consuegra farmers would haul their grain (mostly wheat) up to the ridge for grinding. Over the centuries the windmills were handed down from father to son. Consuegra has more of them in one place than anywhere else in Spain. These are the windmills that were made famous by Miguel de Cerventes in his celebrated novel, 'The Ingenuous Gentlemen Don Quixote of La Mancha'. These are the 'giants' that challenged our hero. Where once there were thirteen, there are now only twelve, though they are scarcely less impressive for that.

Monday 6 January 2014

Mynchin Buckland Priory

The first sisters of the Order of St. John in England were dispersed across the commanderies . But in 1180, Henry II established a priory for them at Mynchin Buckland ( Mynchin Sororum) in the Taunton Vale, on condition that all the sisters should gather at the new house in Somerset. Mynchin Buckland then became the only house of Hospitaller sisters until the dissolution of the Order in England.

The first prioress of Buckland was named Fina who died in 1240 having governed the house for sixty years.The names of the first sisters are also known, Sister Millicent who had previously been living at Sterndon, Herts, Sister Johanna from Hampton, Sister Basilia from Carbroke, Sister Amabilia and Sister Amicia from Thengay, Sister Christina from Hogshaw, Sister Petronella from Gosford and Sister Agnes who came from Clanefield. We known little about the social background of the sisters or what part they played in the administration of the estates. Some of the sisters were fully confessed nuns or canonesses of justice, others were of office and there were also lay sisters and donats. They  wore a black habit with the white eight-pointed cross of the Order sewn onto the front.

 The priory was not an independent establishment, there was also a commandery of Hospitaller brethren at Buckland, under the charge of a commander. It was the duty of the brethren  to give spiritual and temporal assistance to the sisters and to dispense the charitable requests and hospitality in fulfillment of the wishes of the donors and benefactors. Buckland became, after the Priory at Clerkenwell the largest establishment of the Order of St. John in England.

The earliest endowment to the priory  was a grant from Matilda, Countess of Clare who in 1192 gave an annual pension to the sisters of 13s.4d. from the church of St. Peter at Carbrooke. Other early grants were the church of Tolland c 1180, the church of Donnington in the diocese of Lincoln, the church of Halse and land in Sherbourne and Primesley.

In 1198 Fra.Gilbert de Vere, prior of the Hospital gave the sisters an annual pension of 100s. from the manor of Rainham in Essex and about 1240 the prior Fra.Terri de Nussa awarded a yearly payment of 12s.8d. to be made by the commander of Buckland for the support of the sisters.

On 16 July 1227 Loretta Countess of Leicester, widow of Earl Robert who gave, "to God, the Blessed Mary and St. John the Baptist, and to the Blessed Poor of the Hospital house of Jerusalem for the Sustenation of the Sisters of Bockland, and for finding of a Chaplain to celebrate daily in the greater Church at Bockland at the Altar of the Blessed Virgin for the health of my soul and soul of Lord Robert, my husband, sometime Earl of Leicester, and for the health of the souls of my father and mother, and all of my ancestors and successors, all my land of Notestone and all my land of Ynesford this side of the water and that side of the water, and sixty-four acres of my demesne above Ruwedene and all my land of Ridescote, and of Hele, and of Charlecote, and of Tunecote, and of Boteburne, and all the land which Philip at Way holds with the tenants of the aforesaid land, etc,etc...To be had and possessed freely and quietly in perpetual and pure alms, as any alms may be freely and quietly given."

In 1267 the prior Fra. Roger de Vere visited Buckland to mediate on the deteriorating relations between the sisters and the brethren of the commandery. The prior ordered that henceforth the sisters should have their own steward, with a groom and a horse. If he should prove incompetent or unreliable then the prioress might suspend him but not dismiss him without the consent of the prior. The sisters were also to have a chaplain to celebrate the souls of the benefactors and of the first prioress, Fina. The steward and chaplain were to have their lodgings in the commandery.

In 1228 Henry III granted to the prioress and the sisters 21/2d. daily to be paid by the sheriff of Hereford and 2d. daily which Margaret,  the king's sister Isabela's nurse was to receive for the support of three girls at the priory. The next year the sisters were granted a weekly cart load of dead wood from the park of Newton, and three cart loads of faggots. This grant of wood was reconfirmed in 1387 and in 1408 Henry IV reconfirmed the grant once again, defining the wood to be taken as thorn, alder, maple and hazel. The importance of fuel was again recognized when the prior of the Hospital granted the sisters 15 acres where furze grew for fuel. In the previous century Henry de Erlegh had granted the brethren of the commandery 30 wagon-loads of dead wood from his moors near North Petherton.

In 1232 William Earl of Arundel granted 40s. a year from his land for the support of his daughter Agnes as a sister at Buckland, and after his death, Henry III ordered the continuance of the payments for the remainder of Agnes's life. In 1234 the treasurer and chamberlain were ordered by the king to provide each sister with a new tunic and slippers every year.

In 1234 the house was partially burnt down and the sisters received a grant from the crown of thirty oak tress from the park of Newton to rebuild  and a further forty oaks were given  to them in 1236.

In 1311 Thomas of Berkeley gave £4 a year rent from lands at Ham for the maintenance of his daughter Isabel, during her life as a sister at the priory. She was prioress from 1330 to 1337.

The enquiry into the state of the Hospital in England in 1338 found the estates belonging to the commandery to be in a state of dilapidation. All the buildings needed repair.  The manor needed a new roof, the bake-house was a ruin, and the manor house on the estate at Halse seems to have been  a complete ruin. The Buckland estate consisted of 268 acres of arable land and 42 acres of meadow, three of the latter being held by the sisters. The commandery was under the charge of the commander Fra. John Diluwe, three chaplains, two sergeants-at-arms, one of them the steward of the sisters and a corrody. There were said to be usually fifty sisters resident at Buckland. According to the commander this proved to be a great burden on the resources of the commandery.

In 1398 the Grand Master of the Order issued special instructions for the exercise of special care in selecting a commander whose age and character should prevent any scandal arising from his association with the sisters. In due course the priory and the commandery were separated. In January 1500 at Clerkenwell it was decided to close the commandery at Buckland and let it out to farm and so a lease was granted to John Vernay at a yearly rent of £93 6s. 8d.. Vernay had to provide five chaplains on the estates of the house, one of whom was to serve the chapel of the sisters and another the chapel of the commandery.

In 1505 Buckland was endowed with the estates of four commanderies or "camerae", Kyrton, Donyngton, Toller and Chilcombe. It also received revenues from Raynham, Templcombe, Swinfield, Carbroke and a royal grant of £6 13s 4d a year. Buckland's net income amounted to £223 7s 4d a year less the £45 paid each each as responsions to the central treasury.

On 10 February 1539 the sisters gathered in the chapter house at Buckland and formally surrendered it and its endowments to the king. The prioress since 1526, Katherine Bourchier received a pension of £50 a year and pensions were awarded to thirteen other sisters as well as to their confessor

Nothing of the priory or commandery buildings survive, the only tangible remains of Mynchin Buckland are the fish ponds (vivarium).

Saturday 4 January 2014

Templecombe Commandery

Templecombe on the edge of the Blackmore Vale in Somerset became the most important centre of  the Order of the Temple in the west of England. In 1185 Serlo Fitz-Odo  who held the manor had given the land on the south side of the village to the Knights Templar.(The north side, Abbascombe belonged to Shaftesbury Abbey.) The preceptory buildings occupied the site of the manor house, and local tradition has it that the long building with the tiled roof that runs at right angles to the manor had housed the kitchens, stores and the refectory. In one of the kitchens a huge beam across the fireplace is admired locally for its length and size. The three walls of what remains of the chapel are now separated from the main buildings. The guest house has been identified with the former public house, the old Blue Boar. In 1312, after the suppression of the Order of the Temple, their properties, including the preceptory of Templecombe were handed over to the Order of St. John after which it became known as a commandery.

Next door to the old pub is a row of three cottages that had been known as the old Rectory and may  have been the presbytery or priest's house. It was in one of these cottages, during the last war that an extraordinary panel painting was discovered. The bizarre accusation that the Templars worshiped an idol in the shape of a head has not ceased to fascinate the public, with predictable consequences. The painting of a head painted on a panel from Templecombe has been cited as evidence for idol-worship. But the image surely dates from the Order of St John's period. Although carbon dating dates the panel to c1280, the "head" depicts their patron, John the Baptist, on a charger.

In 1539 after the Dissolution of the Monastries, Templecombe was awarded by Henry VIII to William Sherrington who also obtained Lacock Abbey. The former commandery was later bought by Richard Duke who reorganized the buildings and built the present manor house.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Flor da Rosa, Priory of Crato

After the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa had broken the power of the Almohads, the Portuguese were able to push beyond the  southern  frontier across the River Tagus. As a result the Hospitallers gained extensive new lands centered on Crato which became the seat of the priors. The Hospitaller's estates in Portugal were grouped into what was known as the Priory of Crato.

In 1356 the monastery palace of Flor da Rosa  near Crato was built as the residence of the priors. This  building, the project of the first prior of Crato, Fra. Alvaro Goncalves Pereira whose tenure lasted between 1340 and 1383  has been described as the most worthy act of a man who lived with scandalous indulgence. In his enthusiasm for the pleasures of this world he fathered  thirty two illegitimate children, but he was  eventually excommunicated for failing to pay his responsions to Rhodes

The severe appearance of the fortified palace and church is a worthy monument to spiritual aspiration however compromised Fra. Alvaro was by his addiction to the pleasures of this world. This was the golden age of the Priory of Crato's power and prestige. The prioral estates amounted to a virtual autonomous principality that included  ten towns and twenty nine villages.The prior of Crato held the rank of count and was later accepted as a grandee of Portugal. The Vicar General of Crato was a mitered prelate whose jurisdiction in religious matters within the priory was absolute.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Cizur Menor, Priory of Navarre

There may have been a few donations to the Order of St. John in Navarre before Alfonso I, el Ballator, king of Aragon and Navarre gave the Hospital his palace of Sanguesa, and properties at Sos and Uncastello in 1131. In his will of  the same year, Alfonso famously left his kingdom in equal shares to the Order of St. John, the Order of the Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Even though neither of the military orders had  fought by then in the Reconquista, it seems that Alfonso, who had spent 30 years fighting the Moors, believed they would defend the kingdom and  take the fight to the Moors. But at his death in 1134, the barons  rejected the will and chose instead Garcia Ramirez to be king. Perhaps to partly compensate the Hospital for its loss, Garcia Ramirez and his successor Sancho VI granted the Order further privileges and property. With the death of Alfonso, Navarre ceased to play any further part in the Reconquista.

A second commandery was set up by the Hospital  at Cizur Menor in the foothills of the Pyrenees near Pamplona. The Priory of Navarre itself was established there c1185. The Romanesque priory church at Cizur Menor, dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel dates from this period. By 1189 a further 10 commanderies had been added to the priory. The Hospitallers were the only military order with significant landed property in Navarre and the Prior was ranked as one of the four prelates of the kingdom, along with two bishops and the prior of Roncesvalles.

The marriage of the queen of Navarre to Philip the Fair of France in 1284 brought Navarre into the Provencal sphere of influence and from 1297 it was Provencal knights who were appointed as priors of Navarre. From 1314 Hospitallers serving at the convent in Rhodes belonged to the Langue of Provence. Only when Charles II came to the throne in 1350 was the kingdom reoriented  towards Spain and in 1358, the Priory of Navarre was restored to the Langue of Spain.

During the 14th and 15th centuries the priors of  Navarre managed ,most of the time ,to maintain close relations with the monarchy. The prior of the Hospital was a member of the royal council and an important and influential member of the court in the reigns of both Charles II and Charles III. The Hospitallers contributed troops to Charles II's wars. During the reign of King John II and his wife Queen Blanca, the prior of the Hospital, Fra. Jean of Beaumont was appointed guardian of Charles, prince of Viana and chancellor of the kingdom. He had position in the prince's household and a seat in the Navarrese parliament.

However there were serious breaches of these good relations. One of these occurred when Prior Jean of Beaumont sided with the prince of Viana is his rebellion against his father King John II which began in 1451. The king  confiscated all the Hospital's properties, which were only restored after the tenuous truce brought about by the Concord of Barcelona that ended the conflict in 1460.

However when John II arrested his son, the prince of Viana later the same year, the Beaumont family resumed their armed struggle. And as the prior aligned himself with Henry IV of Castille in his war against John II all the Order's properties in Navarre were confiscated again. It was only in 1564 when the prior  realigned himself with the king that the Hospital's property in Navarre were restored. A new revolt by the Beaumont family in 1471 brought yet another confiscation, this time of four of their commanderies, though the king did not prevent the payment of their responsions to the convent at Rhodes.

The price paid by the Hospital of their close proximity to royal power was increasing interference in the Order's internal affairs by the monarchy, a trend that was to become all to common elsewhere.

The  prioral church at Cizur Menor now belongs  to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta who have established a hostel for pilgrims following the Camino to Santiago de Compostella that is open from July to September.