The dissolution of Evesham abbey

“The sufferings of history, for example, are dulled by repetition and time, but personal accounts bring such events to life. The Dissolution of the Monasteries has become to many yet another ‘statistic’ to be absorbed in a study of a larger-than-life Henry VIII, yet it was an agonising period for the men who devoted their lives to the Church.

“In the first of the STC (short title catalogue) sales in 1973, for example, one item was a 1537 first edition of Matthew’s version of the Bible which belonged to John Alcetur (Alcester), a monk at the great Benedictine Abbey of Evesham. The Abbey, partly owing to its size and partly to the resistance of Abbot Lichfield, was one of the last to be suppressed. Only about twenty Benedictine abbeys and priories survived into the year 1540, and by the end of that year not one remained. Alcester had made extensive annotations in Latin and English, and had covered three blank pages with a musical score, probably of his own composition.

“However, it is his personal record, at the end of the Book of Maccabees, of Henry’s tough measures that makes poignant reading today. He wrote:

. . . the monastery of Evesham was suppressed by Kyng Henry the viii the xxxi yere of his raygne the xxx day of Januer at Evensong tyme the convent beyng in the quere [choir] at thys verse [in the Magnificat] Deposuit potentes and wold not suffur them to make an ende. Phillypp Ballard beyng Abbot at that tyme and xxxv Relygius men at that day alyre in the seyde monastry . . .

“It is thought that within two months of the suppression of the Abbey, Alcester’s Bible was taken from him.” — Roy Hartley Lewis, Antiquarian books: an insider’s account, pp.138-9.

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