Author Topic: The Rood of Grace, Boxley Abbey  (Read 149 times)

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Offline Smiffy

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The Rood of Grace, Boxley Abbey
« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2019, 07:54:02 PM »

This is about a religious figure from Kent, although it was not actually a living one  :)
There was once a "mechanical Christ" set upon a crucifix, known as the Rood of Grace which during the fifteenth century drew great flocks of pilgrims to Boxley Abbey in Kent. This likeness of Christ “was made to move the eyes and lipps by stringes of haire” and was on show during the period of Easter and the Ascension.

William Lambarde, in his "A Perambulation of Kent" writes:
It was described as in "variety of gesture, and nimbleness of joints, passed all other that before had been seen: the same being able to bow down and lifte up it selfe, to shake and stirre the handes and feete, to nod the head, to rolle the eies, to wag the chaps, to bende the browes, and finally to represent to the eie, both the proper motion of each member of the body, and also a lively, expresse, and significant shew of a well contented or displeased minde: byting the lippe, and gathering a frowning, forward, and disdainful face, when it would pretend offence: and shewing a most milde, amyable, and smyling cheere and countenaunce, when it woulde seeme to be well pleased".
Henry VIII, as leader of the English Reformation, banned mechanical statues from English churches and the Rood of Boxley Abbey was confiscated by Geoffrey Chamber in 1538. Chamber examined the Rood and reported his findings to Thomas Cromwell, describing the figure as having "Certain engines and old wire, with old rotten sticks in the back, which caused the eyes to move and stir in the head thereof, like unto a lively thing” and also, “the nether lip likewise to move as though it should speak”.
The abbot and monks, when Chamber questioned them, denied any knowledge of the mechanical Rood ever being used. But it had inspired great devotion in the people of Kent, as well as pilgrimages from across the realm, so Chamber deemed it an immediate danger and promptly removed it to Maidstone. There he displayed it in the public market and instilled in the townspeople there a “wondrous detestation and hatred (of the Rood) so that if the monastery had to be defaced again they would pluck it down or burn it.”
A description of the event was noted down by the chronicler Charles Wriothesley:
"Allso the sayde roode was sett in the markett place first at Maydstone, and there shewed openlye to the people the craft of movinge the eyes and lipps, that all the people there might see the illusion that had bene used in the sayde image by the monckes of the saide place of manye yeares tyme out of mynde, whereby they had gotten great riches in deceavinge the people thinckinge that the sayde image had so moved by the power of God, which now playnlye appeared to the contrarye".
It was taken thence to London where the bishop of Rochester, John Hildesley, exhibited it during a sermon at St Paul’s Cross. It was then broken apart and destroyed.
This was also recorded by Wriothesley:
"This yeare, the 24th daie of Februarie, beinge the Soundaie of The Roode of Sexagesima and Sainct Mathias daie, the image of the roode that was at the Abbey of Boxley, in Kent, called the Roode of Grace, was brought to Poules Crosse, and their, at the sermon made by the Bishopp of Rochester, the abuses of the graces and engines, used in old tyme in the said image, was declared, which image was made of paper and cloutes from the legges upward; ech legges and armes were of timber; and so the people had bene eluded and caused to doe great adolatrie by the said image, of long contynuance, to the derogation of Godes honor and great blasphamie of the name of God."
After the sermon was done, "the bishopp tooke the said image of the roode into the pulpitt and brooke the vice of the same, and after gave it to the people againe, and then the rude people and boyes brake the said image in peeces, so that they left not one peece whole".
There is some doubt as to whether the Rood was ever actually in working condition, or used to deceive or extract money from pilgrims. Quite possibly, it was seized upon merely as a propaganda weapon that could be of some use in discrediting the monks of Boxley Abbey.