The House of the Greyfriars in Canterbury - 1
|The House of the Greyfriars in Canterbury|
Shortly after their arrival at the Poor Priests' Hospice the five Friars were given a small room at the back of a school house. It was the opinion of the late owner, Major H. G. James, who was responsible for its restoration, that this original school house was actually on the site of the present building, the foundations of which are conclusively proved, during the restoration work, to be of Roman or early Saxon origin.
The Master of the Priests' Hospice was one, Alexander of Gloucester, and it was not long before this worthy man presented the Friars with a plot of ground for the purpose of building a chapel.
Behind the hospital, but separated from it by the Stour, was a small island formed by the forking of the river. This piece of land belonged to the hospital and was used by the Poor Priests as a garden. It was part of this garden which Alexander now desired to make over to the Friars, and upon which he built them a small and humble chapel " sufficient for their needs." Here, on the very strip of land which now forms the garden of Grey Friars between the two arms of the Stour, the Friars Minor founded their first permanent English house.
Truly it could be said of these early brethren that " in going after the poor they won the hearts of the rich," for we are told that very soon after they had settled in Canterbury they counted among their closest friends Simon Langton, Archdeacon of Canterbury and brother of the Archbishop; Sir Henry de Sandwich a wealthy Kentish gentleman; the Lady Inclusa de Hakington, so called because she afterwards herself became a recluse (Inclusa), who, as Thomas of Eccleston writes: "cared for the Friars as a mother cares for her sons, wisely gaining for them the goodwill of princes and prelates by whom she was highly favoured."
This humble settlement on the little island behind the Poor Priests' Hospice was the home of the Grey Friars for nearly 50 years. But, as time went on and others came to join the Order, without the inspiration of their great leader, St. Francis, they devoted themselves less ardently to their early vows, and worldly possessions were no longer despised.
However, when in 1267, John Digge, an alderman of Canterbury, purchased some land on the other side of that arm of the Stour which bounded the Poor Priests' garden on the north-west, and desired to present it to the Friars, unwilling still to own actual property of their own, they asked that it be made over to the City. The Corporation thenceforth held it in trust for them right up to the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII. John Digge himself transferred the Friars to their new home.
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