Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Saint Egwin

There is something runner-up about the eve before New Year's Eve (not that I have done anything interesting these past New Year's Eves, unless you think sleeping through it is interesting) & there is something a bit runner-up about Egwin, too.  Even the calendar does not think anyone is likely to have heard of this guy. But he founded Eveshem Abbey which I am reliable informed is something a person might actually have heard of. I thought it sounded familiar & then realized it comes up in an Agatha Raisin novel. Egwin himself, to the best of my recollection, does not.

Things began innocently enough:  Egwin was of noble blood, but he was most popular among the proletariat for his protection of widows & orphans.  His fellow clergy, on the other hand, found him overly strict, I presume in a nothing-to-do-with-widows-&-orphans way.  Although I could be wrong, as apparently he was quite the advocate of until-death-us-do-part marriage & clerical celibacy.  One source says, clear as day "There was a need in his diocese for some reform, but Egwin let it get out of hand".  Whatever the case may be, eventually the populist tide turned & Egwin was on the outs.

The man decided to go plead his case to the Pope & did so with one of the great show stopping numbers of religious theater:  declaring himself innocent, Egwin still had himself shackled as though he had been convicted & threw the key into the River Avon.  He traveled, still shackled  & in a not entirely adventure-free manner until he was just this far from his audience with the Pope.  The whole company stopped in Rome, one of Egwin's disciples caught a fish & in it lo & behold The Key!  Is it really any wonder the charges were annulled after that?  It's like a grander, cross-continental, piscine version of the Checkers Speech.

As with Nixon, the story does not end there,  Egwin went home to England, was received with much accolades by the king (no mention of how his original congregation received him).  As ?reward?, Egwin asked for the very plot of land on the River Avon from which the key had been thrown.  Conspiracy theorists among you are now saying "Wait a minute!", but apparently he had a vision.  & following this vision (of virgins & shepherds) he knew he had to dedicate that very spot & it became Evesham Abbey.  This that & the other thing, he more or less retired from public life to govern his abbey.  An abbey that had been given the unusual dispensation to solicit gifts directly from Englands's monarchs while being exempt from any papal or other oversight, which enabled him to live in comfort until he died. 

I do not know if the 8th century is indeed so very different from today but if say Dick Cheney were to leave public office & go live in a very comfortable bunker somewhere, I would not assume it was because he was beloved by the people as the records re: Egwin maintain.  I might even go so far as to wonder if it might actually be the opposite.

But I promised you a runner-up story & here it is:  Egwin turns out to be more or less just a guy but Evesham Abbey--it has everything.  The drama & intrigue, the growth of the town at it's feet, the resisting Henry VIII, the eventual picturesque ruin.  Egwin in all of his corruption &/or glory was just the opening act. 

& a Happy New Year's Eve Eve to you.

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