Lately I’ve been watching “The Tudors” on Netflix, and have been learning about how King Henry VIII lied and manipulated his way into doing all sorts of bizarre and authority-defying things against the Catholic Church, mostly, it seems, because he could. He was not only power hungry, but consumed with leaving a unique legacy, and also with having a son. Since his first wife did not provide him with a boy (just the future Queen Elizabeth I, ahem) he opted to annul his marriage to her so he could try again (with the well-known Anne Boleyn, who I guess he also loved a little, for a time.) The Pope would not allow him to do this, so with the help of Sir Thomas Cromwell, a likewise twisted creature, he named himself head of the church. When the church fought back, Henry then named himself supreme ruler of everything, with just one above him: almighty God. I mean, is there anyone who doesn’t now recognize the name Henry the 8th? Perhaps you’d think with seven other Henrys before him he’d have somehow melted into the background, but no, he’s the only one history remembers vividly.
Anyway. I’m digging The Tudors.
I’m also digging Muckross Abbey, a divine and awe inspiring structure falling to ruin in Killarney National park, near Muckross House, which I wrote about yesterday. I thought I’d give Muckross Abbey a few paragraphs of its own today, since it made its own quiet, but lasting, impression. Henry VIII should take note. Quiet, but lasting.
Exploring the abbey was a side trip we didn’t plan for at all, since we didn’t know it existed, but which we were happy to embark on, as unplanned trips are often the very best kind. On our hike in to the famous Muckross House, we literally came across the abbey, and couldn’t help but take a meandering little path that led us there.
I promise this has something to do with Henry VIII, and I’ll get there in just a minute. But first, come along with me.
There it was, just waiting to be explored.
And it had the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen.
Every grave was different, and imperfectly spaced.
Obviously, preserved as uniquely as the people who lived these lives.
Some had steps leading to tombs underground – some well tended, some not.
In any case, though the abbey is in ruins and without a roof, it is surprisingly well preserved. One can still walk inside every room, all grand in scope with very high walls and what would have been enormous stained-glass windows. It is easy to imagine the lives of those that lived here, in utter devotion to God: where they kneeled to pray, where they kept their burning candles safe, where they lay their heads at night to rest.
See what I mean about the windows?
The abbey also has this beautiful Yew tree growing up in the center of the garth, or square of arches. It is truly spectacular.
Muckross Abbey was built in 1448, which means that it existed during the time in which Henry VIII (supreme ruler himself) decided to overhaul the entire Catholic Church. It was he who suppressed the order of friars who lived at Muckross Abbey in 1541, as part of his plan to leave his wife and marry his mistress. It was he who allowed marauders to destroy the abbey repeatedly in the name of … love? control? legacy? Seems a far-reaching consequence just so a spoiled rotten king can have what he wants.
Then again, I wonder if good ol’ Henry could have foreseen that I, a woman traveling with her family in 2015, would read upon a plaque that the friary was suppressed in 1541 by Henry VIII and later destroyed completely by Cromwellians, who made it furthermore unlivable and know exactly what went down. Be it known, Mr. Tudor, that I understand the treachery behind your will being done. Is that what you had in mind 450 years after your death?
My point in sharing all my learning about The Tudors is this: sometimes it may look like I’m wasting time watching television on Netflix, but what I’m doing, folks, is researching. Just collecting information for the day I stumble upon an abbey in the woods and want to understand how it came to crumble. The answer? Henry Tudor, King of England. See how those things just come together sometimes like cogs in a wheel?
I love that stuff.
Another connection? Remember Robert Cagney from yesterday’s post? This cemetery at the abbey,? The most peaceful and lovely one I’ve ever seen? It’s to be his final resting place, ‘thanks be to God,’ he said. For such a unique and gentle soul, this is only fitting.