Every time I read about English King Henry VIII I have great difficulty feeling sympathy towards the man, a lustful harsh egotistical king who married six times for the purpose of securing a male heir to the throne, severed England from the Roman Catholic Church and dissolved monasteries for financial gain.
To be fair, there was, and is, much that is wrong and disturbing about the Roman Catholic Church past and present.
But generally monasteries and abbeys, because of their divine strict dedication to God, seem far less guilty of the problems that have plagued the Church.
There were of one mind and heart.
They truly believed that nothing conquers except truth.
The victory of truth is love.
(Victoria veritatis est caritas.)
The pursuit of truth through learning is key, balanced by the injunction to behave with love towards each other.
Love is not earned through human merit, but freely given and received, totally undeserved but generously given, in a community of mutual affection and intellectual advancement.
Theirs was a search for beauty ancient and new.
Then, a man driven by primal urges and a wish to pass his throne onto a male heir singlehandedly diminished the glory of many a monastery in England..
Iain and Samantha, after a day in Portsmouth, showed me the ruins of Titchfield Abbey, near Farnham.
The Abbey was founded in 1231 by Premonstratensian canons, an austere order of priests.
The Abbey was neither wealthy nor influential.
The 15 canons, known as the White Canons as their robes were white, including 2 vicars, were devoted to scholarship, as shown by their impressive (for that time) library.
They studied, worked, prayed and served the community.
One of their mottos was “Remember the poor before you sit down to eat.”
The Abbey consisted of the church, cloister, chapter house, dormitory, kitchen, refectory, fishponds, orchards, stables, library, food storage rooms, the Abbott’s quarters, gardens, barns, guesthouses, industrial buildings and gatehouses.
In short, it was a thriving community dedicated to doing good.
The Abbey was largely quiet, generally well run and maintained a good reputation for the life led by its canons.
Kings and queens visited the Abbey and it was even the venue for a royal wedding.
All was well…until Henry VIII.
Henry dissolved the Abbey in 1537, seizing all of the Abbey’s assets for cash.
Thomas Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, gained control of the Abbey after the Dissolution and made it his home, converting it into a mansion and renaming it Place House.
Wriothesley chose to convert the main abbey buildings, including the church, into his house.
It was a bold and imaginative scheme.
The cloister became the central courtyard of the house (a magnificent fountain was placed in the middle), the old refectory, with the addition of a grand porch, became the great hall, while the rest of the Abbey was turned into luxury apartments for the family.
The church tower was demolished.
The mansion included a private indoor theatre and a deer park.
Place House was then passed to the Earls of Gainsborough, then to the Dukes of Beaufort, then sold to the Delme family who lived there for 40 years.
In 1781, the decision was made to abandon the mansion and deliberately demolish much of it to create a romantic ruin.
The locals took stone from the Abbey for their homes.
Though a great much was destroyed, there are still major remains of the Abbey and Place House to be seen today.
As I walked through the glory of what was once an Abbey then a mansion, I thought of other ruins and places that exist no longer.
Over millennia cities have disappeared and empires exist only as memory.
What will happen to us, our civilisation, over the millennia to come?
Will our cities endure eternal such as Rome or will even their location be nothing more than guesswork and speculation?
Will we destroy ourselves or rise to even greater glory?
Will we find pieces of the Statue of Liberty in some far-off exotic land or even alien world?
At present the average lifespan of a woman is 82, the average lifespan of a man is 78.
How will we be remembered?
Will we be remembered at all?
Or are we, as the group Kansas sang, nothing more than “dust in the wind”?