A Wiley Cleric

This is from another book in the brilliant through variable series, Highways and Byways, this time for Oxford and the Cotswolds, by H A Evans.

Osney Abbey was one of two religious sites – the other being Rewley – that were near the present train station at Oxford, but totally destroyed at the Reformation. Osney was one of the largest and wealthiest in England. When Dr Johnson visited the ruins in 1754, Johnson was silent for half an hour – an event in itself, after which he said “I viewed them with indignation.” the historian Wood derived the story of the abbey’s founding from Leland:

“The place though low, where it had tis situation, was yet very pleasant both in respect of the chinking rivulets running about it, as also fro the shady groves and walks; and soe enticing a place was it for pleasure that it often gave occasion to a noble lady of this city called Editha Forne, wife of Robert de Oilley, (a woman given to noe less superstition then credulity,) to recreat and solace herself therein when she lived at the castle [which was build by her husband]. who more particularly, as upon an evening, she with her attendance walked by the river’s side, saw a great company of pyes [magpies] gathered together on a tree, making a hideous noise with their chattering,. which shee beholding, did with slight notice passe it by for that time; but the next evening walking that way againe with her maidens, (as she did afterwards the third time) found againe the pyes on the same tree, and making the like noise as before, seeming as ’twere to direct their chaatterings to her. With which being much perplexed, wondred what the meaning might be; and returning home againe, sent for her confessor who was one Radulphus, a canon of St Frideswyde’s; [now Oxford Cathedral] : and relating all the perticulars that had severall times hapned to her in this place, demanded of him what the reason of their chattering might be. He told her he could not directly resolve her at that time; but if she would walke there againe the next day, he would wait upon her and view the matter himselfe and then give her an exact account. That time being come, they all walked the same way; where they found the pyes againe as before and making the like noise. Radulphus, the wiliest pye of all, seeing all this, seemed at the present to be amazed; but after mature deliberation told her (upon her often demands for resolution) ‘O Madam, these are noe pyes, but soe many poore soules in purgatory that doe begge and make all this complaint for succour and relief;p and they (knowing you to be pittyfull and one that would have regard of their condition)  doe direct their clamours to you, hopoing that by your charity you would bestowe some thing worthy of their relief as also for the welfare of your’s and your posterity’s soules as your husband’s uncle did in founding the College and Church of St. Georg.’ These words being finish, she replied: And is it soe indeed? now, he pardieux, if old Robin my husband will concede to my request, I shall doe my best endeavour to be a means to bring these wretched soules to rest.’ and thereupon relating the whole matter to her husband, did soe much (by her continuall and frequent importunities to him) bring the business about, that he a little while after (with the consent of Theobaldus, archbishop of Canterbury), and Alexander, bishop of Lincolne, in whose diocess this place then was, founded this monastery neare or upon the place here these pyes chattered, anno Domini 1129, dedicating it to St. Mary, allotting it to be a receptacle of Canon Regulars of St Augustine, and made Radulphus, before mentioned, the first priour thereof.”

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