HINTON PRIORY On his death in 1226 Longespee, the Earl of Salisbury, left vestments, jewels and sheep and cattle to the Carthusian Order. In the Middle Ages the religious beliefs induced a fear of purgatory and damnation in the afterlife and so, as was the custom for those with wealth, Longespee had endeavoured to help himself and his family by the pious act of founding a Priory of Carthusians to pray for their souls. This Priory had been given land at Hethrop in Gloucestershire but was not flourishing and Longespee had intended to find a more suitable site. However he died before he could carry this out, leaving his widow to fulfil his wishes. At his death Ela, probably still under forty, was left with at least eight children - the eldest of her four sons still a minor. She was however a very capable and powerful woman. Both rich and related to royalty, the King then accorded her the rank of Countess in her own right and on several occasions she was High Sheriff of Wiltshire. In 1227, the year after Longespee's death, she gave two of her own manors, Hinton and Norton St. Philip, to the Carthusians to re-establish themselves. The charter in which she gave the manors stated her desire to: `found a House of Carthusians to the Honour of God & the Blessed Mary and St.John Baptist & all Saints, in my Park of Henton, in a place called The Place of God There are two points of especial interest in this statement; Firstly the park. This would have been a deer park surrounded by a ditch with an outer bank topped by a wall or fence and ideal for an Order that sought isolation from the world. Secondly, that the place they were to build was called The Place of God - `Locus Dei'. This is not a usual description and is repeated in later charters. Could it have been an earlier name - an area called `Godspiece' perhaps? Such a name still exists in Norton. At the time of Ela's charter it seems that these Manors lay within the parishes and did not cover the whole area. However, by the early 14th century, with more gifts of land, the Prior was described as the Lord of Hinton and Norton By 1232 the Priory was finished, as was Ela's other project, the Augustinian Nunnery at Laycock. Tradition has it that she attended the dedication of the Nunnery in the morning and rode over to Hinton to take part in a similar ceremony at the Priory in the afternoon. She was said to have been the only woman ever to enter the Priory, as the Order strictly excluded all females Hinton was only the second Carthusian Priory to be founded in England - the first being that at Witham, founded by Henry II in 1172 as part of the penalty imposed by the Pope for his murder of Thomas a Becket. The Carthusians differed from most other Orders. Their origins lay in the early desert hermits who had lived solitary lives. In 1084 under the leadership of St. Bruno an order had been founded to formalise certain groups of solitary monks who lived in loosely arranged communities. According to Bruno's Rule each monk lived in a little cell, or rather cottage, whereas monks of other orders led a more communal life. The life of the Carthusian was contemplative, austere and secluded. The general layout of the monastery consisted of the Outer Court, with the gatehouse, guesthouse, baker, barns and so on, and the Inner Court or Great Cloister, surrounded by the monks' little four-roomed cottages, each in its own little garden. A monk was chiefly employed in prayer and contemplation and although he could work in the small garden or write religious books, he was not allowed to work on the land or go beyond the restricted boundaries of the Priory. Once a week the monks would have a meal together and walk together within their grounds, but on most days food was passed through an angled hatch in the `cell' wall so that the monk need not see the brother or servant delivering it. The Rule allowed no meat and the food was largely vegetarian. Needing strict seclusion, it is easy to see how appropriate the Salisbury's deer park with its secure boundaries would have been Many Carthusians came from other orders or joined in later life as the Carthusian way was considered too hard a discipline for an untried young man. Due to their very enclosed way of life they needed others to serve them and to look after their lands and markets, etc., as they were not allowed to trade. These duties were performed by Lay Brothers or `conversi' who had taken vows, but might be illiterate and would never become priests like the monks, and by secular workers some of whom would have been literate and could work as bailiffs. In the early days of the Order the Lay Brothers lived in a separate establishment with its own church and buildings. Witham and Hinton are thought to have been the only two Priories where these `Friaries' were actually built. They were not for Friars (preaching orders) but for the Freres or brothers. Later foundations combined the buildings from the beginning.
PRIORY HISTORY
See Also commentarh by M Dodge on A CHAIN OF PRAYER THROUGH THE AGES IN FRESHFORD