It was this terror that poisoned life. The sacristan who polished the jewels that were left, handled them doubtfully now; the monk who superintended the farm sickened as he made his plans for another year; the scribe who sat in the carrel lost enthusiasm for his work; for the jewels in a few months might be on royal fingers, the beasts in strangers’ sheds, and the illuminated leaves blowing over the cobbled court, or wrapped round grocers’ stores.
Dom Anthony preached a sermon on patience one day in Christmastide, telling his fellows that a man’s life, and still less a monk’s, consisted not in the abundance of things that he possessed; and that corporate, as well as individual, poverty, had been the ideal of the monastic houses in earlier days. He was no great preacher, but the people loved to hear his homely remarks, and there was a murmur of sympathy as he pointed with a clumsy gesture to the lighted Crib that had been erected at the foot of one of the great pillars in the nave.
“Our Lady wore no cloth of gold,” he said, “nor Saint Joseph a precious mitre; and the blessed Redeemer Himself who made all things had but straw to His bed. And if our new cope is gone, we can make our processions in the old one, and please God no less. Nay, we may please Him more perhaps, for He knows that it is by no will of ours that we do so.”
But there had been a dismal scene at the chapter next morning. The Prior had made them a speech, with a passionate white face and hands that shook, and declared that the sermon would be their ruin yet if the King’s Grace heard of it.
“There was a fellow that went out half-way through,” he cried in panic, “how do we know whether he is not talking with his Grace even now? I will not have such sermons; and you shall be my witnesses that I said so.”
The monks eyed one another miserably. How could they prosper under such a prior as this?
But worse was to follow, though it did not directly affect this house. The bill, so long threatened, dissolving the smaller houses, was passed in February by a Parliament carefully packed to carry out the King’s wishes, and from which the spiritual peers were excluded by his “permission to them to absent themselves.” Lewes Priory, of course, exceeded the limit of revenue under which other houses were suppressed, and even received one monk who had obtained permission to go there when his community fell; but in spite of the apparent encouragement from the preamble of the bill which stated that “in the great solemn monasteries ... religion was right well kept,” it was felt that this act was but the herald of another which should make an end of Religious Houses altogether.
But there was a breath of better news later on, when tidings came in the early summer that Anne was in disgrace. It was well known that it was her influence that egged the King on, and that there was none so fierce against the old ways. Was it not possible that Henry might even yet repent himself, if she were out of the way?