Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where's There: Hailes Abbey

Emerson Eells reads in J.K. Borkman's private papers that Borkman purchased the Blood of Hailes from a crooked antique dealer near the ruins of this abbey [The Dark Secret of Weatherend; 177-8].

Hailes Abbey, in Gloucestershire, England, was founded in 1245/6 by Richard, the Earl of Cornwall. As sheep-herding was the main and meager source of income for the Cistercian abbey, it needed a popular attraction to draw visitors to the area. On September 14, 1270 a phial containing the blood of Jesus was presented to the monks; it became known as the Blood of Hailes.

As Emerson notes, "abbeys and churches actually owned things like the skull of Saint John the Evangelist or a bone from Saint Luke's forearm" [77]. Relics were very important for they could not only bring in pilgrims but their money as well. The blood did the trick. Having been guaranteed by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and bought from the Count of Flanders in 1270, the abbey was extended and the artifact was put of permanent display as people flocked to view it, making Hailes one of the most popular destinations in England for religious pilgrims. The blood was eventually declared a fake, reported to either nothing more than a mixture of saffron and honey or animal blood. Incidentally, a similar relic had been presented to the King Henry III years before in 1247.

The abbey flourished for almost 300 years, before closing in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and it was subsequently demolished to use as building materials elsewhere. Long in ruins, the only remaining fragments of the abbey are several arched entrances from the cloisters set in the midst of a silent meadow in the middle of cypress and yew trees. A hotel built for the richer visitors lives on today as the George Hotel. The building itself has been altered several times, but still retains an open gallery over the courtyard. The small museum on the grounds contains examples of medieval floor tiles, vaulting bosses and other carved decoration.

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