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THE religion of the earliest inhabitants of the Island is completely obliterated: not a temple is remaining, nor altar to be seen, that can give the least trace of the principles which were professed by the original Islanders. Most likely the druidical system, which spread its mystic rites over Britain, was the religion cultivated by the fathers of this little spot.
At what time the light of Christianity beamed upon this Island of the sea, is perfectly uncertain. It seems to have no patron saint; and as fable has given no one the honour of being the first missionary to this Island, it is probable it received its knowledge of Christianity from some of the first ministers who resided in the neighbouring parts of the county. Worsley says, "it received the Christian faith later than any other part of Britain." The earliest record of its churches is that contained in Doomsday Book, which states, that "the Island then contained ten churches." 66 The profits of the churches of Arreton, Godshill, and Freshwater, were to be applied as a provision to the poor and to hospitality." It seems, however, that at the time in which Ceadwalla spread his devastations over it, the religion of the Romish church had begun to make its way among them; as we find that the abbot of
Redbridge requested that the two infant brothers of Arvandus, king of the Island, might be baptized before they were put to death.
From that period, until popery began to assume a more powerful form and a more imposing aspect, we know but little of the ecclesiastical affairs of the Island. But after that time, religious houses were to be seen in some of its most beautiful parts; most of these are now in ruins. Since the light of the reformation shone in England, the dark cloud of ignorance aud superstition, which alike checked the intellectual energies of man, and kept the immortal spirit in religious slavery, has vanished,-men have learned that real religion consists, not in the splendour of external rites, nor the ascetic life of a recluse; and though those fallen edifices are visited by the antiquary with veneration, the philanthropist passes from them to the day in which he lives, and exults in the thought, that the Scriptures are not locked up in the cell of a monk, but are diffusing their holy light through the world; while nunneries are perishing, and monasteries are in ruins.
The religious state of the Island must have been very low, as Sir John Dingley, in a letter addressed to the Earl of Pembroke, in 1642, says, "the clergy of the Island, for the most part, are loose and idle livers, and neglect their charge."*
One of the earliest religious edifices was the priory of Carisbrook; this was founded by William I. It continued in all its sacred character, amidst the revolutions of time, till Henry VIII. consigned it, with many others, to the rapacious hand of dissolution.
Quarr Abbey, situated near Ryde, was founded by Baldwin, Earl of Devon, about the thirty-second year of Henry I. From the extent of ground it covers, and
*Worsley, p. 114.
the striking fragments which remain, it appears to have been a very superior establishment.
At Barton there was an Oratory founded, towards the close of the thirteenth century, by John de Insula, rector of Shalfleet, and Thomas de Winter, rector of Godshill. This Oratory was in the reign of Henry VI. at the instigation of the bishop, granted to the college of Winchester.*
The power which the clergy exercised over the people was very great. An opposition being made at Arreton to the induction of a priest to the living, the bishop directed the dean of the Island to collate him to it, contra omnes et singules contradictores et rebelles; on which occasion nine persons were excommunicated; and the dean was commanded to denounce the excommunication in all the churches of his deanery at the time of high mass, when the cross was elevated, the bells rung, the candles lighted, and then extinguished, to give effect to this anathema. About the same time
*It may not be irrelevant to give an outline of the constitution of this Oratory, as a specimen of the nature of monastic life. The rules of the order of St. Austin, to which the brethren of this Oratory belonged, required :-That there be six chaplains, and one clerk to officiate both for the living and the dead; that one of them, chosen by the brethren, be presented to the bishop of Winton to be archpriest; that all be subject to the authority of the bishop; when any chaplain shall die, his goods shall remain to the Oratory; that they have only one mess, with a pittance at a meal, excepting on the greater festivals, when they were allowed three messes; they were to be diligent in reading and prayer; no one was to go beyond the bounds of the Oratory, without license from the archpriest; their habit was to be of one colour; the archpriest sat at the head of the table, then those who had celebrated magnam missam, then the priest of St. Mary, next in order the priest of the Holy Trinity, and lastly, the priest who says mass for the dead; the clerk was to read to them while they dined; they were to sleep in one room, to use a special prayer for their benefactors, and in all their ceremonies, and in the tinkling of the bell, they were to follow the uses of Sarum.
the churches of Godshill and Freshwater were sequestrated for contempt of the canons. Such was the religion which once hung like a dense cloud over this beautiful Island.
St. Helens contained an alien priory. In 1155, it was occupied by a race of Cluniac monks.
There was a priory or hospital situated at St. Cross, near Newport. This edifice was a cell to the abbey of Tyrone, in France, and was dedicated to the Holy Cross.
In the midst of the beautiful scenery of Appuldercombe was a cell of Benedictine monks. These were under the authority of the abbey of St. Mary de Montisburg, in Normandy. This was one of the edifices erected by Isabella de Fortibus. It was founded during the reign of Henry III. and dissolved, with other alien priories, by Henry V.
There is also mention of an hermitage at Chale, upon the south-west of Appuldercombe, in the year 1312. At Northwood, adjoining the parish church, stood a religious house, occupied by fratres et sorores, fraternitatis, Sancti Johannis Baptistæ in ecclesia de Northwoode. About a century and a half ago a building reputed to be the church house was standing.
In addition to all the monastic edifices and parish churches, there were several private chapels, or chapels attached to abbeys, scattered over different parts of the Island; the greater number of these are so completely ruined, that the situation in which they stood is scarcely to be ascertained. "The distinction," says Worsley," which was made between the parish church and the chapel, consisted in the right of administering the sacraments and burial of the dead;" hence, at the erection of these chapels, care was taken that they should have neither fonts, bells, nor anything which would put them upon an equality with the mother