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Tudor England: The Testing of The Faith #6

Glastonbury Tor, Triumph Over Death
Tudor England: The Testing of The Faith #6
By: Donna Fletcher Crow

Well, that’s the trouble with writing history and telling the story of historical characters. Sometimes terrible things do happen— happen to good people.

And so it was with Abbot Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury. No treasonous rebel, he. No stalwart standout against the king’s “Great Matter.” No fiery preacher to turn the people from King Henry’s determined goals. Richard Whiting was a quiet, godly man of prayer well into his eightieth year. But he had the misfortune to be the head of the richest abbey in England. And Henry wanted those riches.

So the evidence was found. The trial was held. The verdict pronounced: 

            “Prisoners at the bar,” the judge said, running his fingers over the fur bands on his robe, “you have been convicted on the evidence of this court of seeking to deprive the king of the property willed to him by the high estates of the realm, in trust for the nation.
            “The duty remaining to me is to pronounce upon you the awful sentence the law provides against this crime— that you be taken hence to the prison and from thence to be drawn on the morrow upon a hurdle to the summit of Glastonbury Tor, that all men far and wide may witness the royal justice. There you are to be hanged by the neck, but not until you are dead. For while you are still living, your bodies are to be taken down, your bowels torn out and burst before your faces. Your heads are then to be cut off, and your bodies divided, each into four quarters, to be at the king’s disposal. And may God have mercy upon your souls.”
* * *
            That night in his cell, with his two loyal monks in the next room, Whiting kept a prayer vigil. The poundings of the workmen erecting the three gibbets for their execution atop the Tor reminded him of a lonely hill with three crosses on it.
            My Lord, when the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? his soul cried.
            And the answer returned to him, The Lord is in His holy temple. The Lord is on His heavenly throne.
            In the darkest hours, even in this dark hour now, as it had been throughout history, God was still in charge— even in that darkest of all hours when His own Son died on a lonely hill.                 And then the hill Whiting saw in his mind was not Golgotha, but his own dear, familiar Tor. In his vision, he no longer saw it muddy brown against the gray mid-November sky, but in fair spring green with the morning sun shining on it and baby lambs and small flowers dotting its slopes, as Whiting loved it best. And beyond that he saw woods and rivers and rich fields, gentle villages folded in hillocks, and then cities and palaces of beauty. There were books, music, art, the plumpest fresh fruit, the aching tenderness of spring mornings, the warmth of summer afternoons, the gold of autumn evenings, and the comfort of a winter’s night by a hearty fire.             There was a world of great, great beauty— a world God had made so by His own hand.                                   Those men who listened to the trickery of the Deceiver had done their best to spoil and foul it all, to diminish and soil the Creator’s handiwork. And sometimes it seemed that those of the Destroyer were far greater than those of the Creator. Sometimes it seemed that the original sin brought into the world by the Evil One was greater than the original righteousness built into the world from the beginning by the Creator.               
            But Whiting knew it was not so. Not ultimately. Good would triumph. The work of the Creator would outlast and shine far, far beyond the worst attacks of the Destroyer. England, this England, and the world beyond it would one day be washed clean of sin and strife and squalor. It would become part of God’s new heaven and His new earth. For the Word declares that the world— the world to which the man of God was not to be conformed— would pass away.
            The hallelujah that rose in his heart all but broke from his lips.

And still Glastonbury stands, a monument to the faith of the past, a beacon of hope for the future. Testament to the fact that in every age there have been those who stood strong for the right and no matter how powerful the dark, how dim the light, still the light has flamed again. Each generation must fight its battle, must make its stand. As do the abbey arches, the holy thorn, the flowing waters of Chalice remind us of the hope and grace that has always been there world without end, Amen.

Glastonbury saw it all:

Joseph of Arimathea and his little band of pilgrims, seeking refuge from Roman persecution, flee to this tiny, sheltered island on the west coast of Britannia, bringing with them their most sacred possession- the Holy Grail;

The holy Isle of Avalon provides refuge for renewal of courage as King Arthur and his knights fight off the invading barbarian hoard, then it becomes his final resting place;

A devastating fire threatens to destroy the work and worship of centuries, but Arthur's bones provide the impetus for yet more magnificent building, a greater flowering of the faith;

Until the last abbot is drug to his death atop the Tor and the splendid arches are left to crumble.

But still the faithful seek the greatest prize of all- The Holy Grail.

Through all the ages history and legend intertwine around these broken arches, standing a beacon of hope and light for the future.

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. Besides the award-winning Glastonbury, Donna is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave  and A Darkly Hidden Truth, as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries.

Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To read more about all of Donna’s books  and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to:
Twitter: @DonnaFletchCr
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