Gaye Mack’s Blog


Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 4 Comments

By the fall of 1539, Thomas Cromwell’s  methodical eradication of England’s  abbeys and monasteries  on behalf of King Henry VIII  had well been  underway for a few years.  Beginning with the smaller houses  in 1537, the campaign eventually  found it’s way to Glastonbury, one of the wealthiest abbeys in the country.  The zealous motivations behind this fierce onslaught were complex, no question.  Political posturing, Henry’s break with Rome, the need for a male heir and frankly his desperation to get his hands on cold, hard cash… all of these were at the root.

 Long before his marriage to Anne Boleyn and the brutal execution of Richard Whiting,  Henry’s ability to manage his money was out of control.  He was known to be a lavish spender so much so that by the time he married Anne he’d gone through all of the money left to him by his father, some £1,800,000!  Once he broke with Rome, Henry had all but alienated most of Europe, making his realm a target for wolves on his doorstep.  At the very least, he needed money to supply a military and to keep Anne in the manner to which she’d become accustomed.

 For its part,  the Church was rife with greed and a variety of non-spiritual improprieties that  ran rampant among the religious houses prior to the dissolution.  However, at the end of the day, Henry’s object was to get his hands on salable land and possessions. Since The Great Fire of 1184Glastonbury  had miraculously risen from its ashes like the mythical phoenix. Only the  shrines at Canterbury and Walsingham attracted more pilgrims.  This was a house that despite its own internal disorder between factions of monks, was rich in material goods and property.

 In September of 1539 Richard Layton along with two other of Cromwell’s commissioners made a ‘visit’ to Glastonbury for the purpose of interrogating its abbot, Richard Whiting.  Whiting was an old man by this time and by all accounts had so far gone to great lengths to stay out of trouble by not rocking the ecclesiastical boat regarding Henry’s petition to divorce Katherine of Aragon.   However, when Layton and his colleagues searched Whiting’s study, they discovered a book arguing against the divorce along with various papers considered to be traitorous.  Further interrogation of Whiting proved to be unfruitful as evidently the abbot was stubborn and uncooperative.  As a result he was removed to London’s Tower to await interrogation by Cromwell himself. 

Meanwhile back in Glastonbury, Layton, Thomas Moyle and Richard Pollard thoroughly discharged the abbey’s community and then proceeded with a systematic sweep that revealed hidden wealth in the form of plate, gold and ‘other articles.’  One can only imagine  details of the resulting inventory totaling (not including land and cattle holdings) 11,000 oz in plate plus gold, furniture and £1,100 in money.  Nevertheless, despite Layton and his associate’s discoveries, the myth remains alive to this day that ‘much of the Glastonbury treasure’ including the Holy Grail, escaped Cromwell’s commissioners. 

Whiting was arraigned on November 6th, 1539 resulting in the order,  ‘put to execution.’    At some point he was transferred back to Glastonbury according to Sir John Russell, who was  charged with the abbot’s ‘disposal.’  Details of Whiting’s gruesome execution are fairly well-known. Feeble and ill, the Abbot was dragged on a hurdle to Tor Hill where he was hung, (some resources claim from St. Michael’s tower) drawn, quartered and beheaded.  His four body parts were sent to Wells, Bath, Ilchester and Bridgewater for public display; his head was stuck on Glastonbury’s abbey gate. 

The question remains, was Whiting truly a traitor or was his execution simply vindictive retaliation for his obstinacy and Henry’s need to get his hands on the great abbey’s extensive wealth?  Unfortunately it’s doubtful we’ll ever know as the  records of Whiting’s trial along with Cromwell’s justification for execution have never been found.

 So, what do you think?  Was Whiting’s execution justified or simply an example of  bullying, power that ordered terminal  punishment for defiance?


St. Michael’s Tower-The Tor, Glastonbury

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

Relevant books to explore:

  • The Tudors-G.J. Meyer
  • The Last Divine Office-Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries-Geoffrey Moorhouse
  • Wolf Hall-Hilary Mantel
  • Bringing up the Bodies-Hilary Mantel

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Posted on by Gaye Mack in Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

Throughout Europe in the tenth century, almshouses, particularly in Great Britain emerged as centers which provided charitable housing based on Christian values for those struggling in dire poverty.  Although the religious aspect is less important today than it was in the Middle Ages, many have survived and among them is Britain’s oldest alms house, St. Cross.  Founded in 1132 by Winchester’s Bishop Henry de Blois,  St. Cross remains active today and can be visited throughout the year should you happen to find yourself in Winchester.  Nearly 900 years old, this historical institution has a fascinating history that is well worth exploring.

 At the time of the hospital’s founding,( the early meaning of hospital being nearer to a hotel for our modern understanding) Winchester was very important as an ecclesiastical center as was its Bishop.  In addition to being a papal legate, Henry also enjoyed the benefit of royal connections.  He was a grandson of William the Conqueror and nephew to William’s heir, King Henry I.  In his youth, the Bishop began his ecclesiastical career as a Cluniac monk at the famous abbey in France.  And, it was at Cluny that the lesson of public charity was instilled in him.  However, along with this lesson, Henry retained his pride and ambition making him a very busy young man.

The future Bishop was first brought to England by King Henry to take up the position as Abbot of powerful  Glastonbury Abbey.   Despite the relatively young age of 26, he was then made Bishop of the important ecclesiastical center of Winchester.  However, this wasn’t enough, evidently.  Henry believed he should be made an Archbishop and thus pursued this ambition by moving to raise Winchester to the status of an Archdiocese.  In order to achieve this, Henry knew he needed to do something that would make his ecclesiastical administration more important than it already was.

 Remembering the lessons of charity no doubt drilled into him during his tenure at Cluny, Henry decided that the founding of an almshouse was in order.  However such founding couldn’t be just any almshouse, it needed to be one of considerable size and importance.  By 12th century standards, Henry was a very wealthy man and so at first used his own resources to embark on his mission.  As to the recipients of charity, Henry was quite clear in his mind.  They would be thirteen poor men (commemorating Jesus and the twelve disciples, most likely) who were so reduced in circumstances and strength they couldn’t fend for themselves. (Note not surprisingly, that women were not mentioned!)  

Inmates were to be given clothing, beds fit for their ‘infirmities’, a ‘daily good loaf of wheaten bread of the weight of five measures’(approximately 2¾ pound by today’s standards), three dishes at dinner and one for supper.  In addition, they were to have the equivalent of approximately three quarts of good beer!  Who would want to leave these environs?   Nevertheless, should any of the ‘brethren’ recover they were to be dismissed with honor to make room for a deserving replacement.  In addition to the thirteen men looked after in St. John’s, Henry also provided for an additional 100 who lived outside of the almshouse. 

St. John’s has such a rich history of tradition, not to mention historical value to be found in its physical architecture that there may be more to come in future posts!


 Examples of the modern cup and plate used in the ancient tradition(still maintained)

of the Wayfarer’s Dole which consists of a small cup of ale and a piece of bread.

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

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Posted on by Gaye Mack in Balance, Karmic and Self-Discovery Astrology, Writer's Work Leave a comment

While September goes out tomorrow with a full Moon in the fiery warrior Aries, opposing the Sun in harmony seeking Libra, we need to be aware that this isn’t just any full Moon.  This Moon presents us with a full agenda for making yet another course correction.  All full moons bring intense energy, a culmination of seeds that have previously been sown; the degree of intensity depends on the signs and planets involved. Aries and Libra are ‘cardinal’ and thus we are especially put on notice that new beginnings are afoot within us individually and on the global stage.  And, as if this weren’t enough, we’re also looking at  a tight ‘T Square’ with the on-going Uranus/Pluto Square which just had the second of exact hits on September 19th. 

We can see the effects of this energy  reflected  in the  ecological, political, cultural and economic upheavals around the globe, but what does all this energy boil down to for each of us personally besides bringing the message of change and new beginnings? If we look at this agenda  in  layers, the first layer of this ‘hot’ full moon urges us to find a collaborative balance (Libra) between our self worth, what we value and love represented by Venus(Libra’s planetary ruler) and the warrior energy of Mars(Aries’ ruler) pushing us to protect and defend what matters most to us.

Going down a little further, we look at how the energy of the on-going Pluto/Uranus square is strongly involved with this full moon.  In astrology, the energy behind a mathematical square of two planets represents a turning point, a crisis of change, so to speak, as  two energies vie for attention in one box.  The key is negotiation.

As I’ve posted before on this square, Pluto requires us to dig deep into the shadows of our internal landscape, bringing to light ‘stuff’ that we’ve managed to ‘stuff’ because it isn’t very attractive.  Pluto says, “It’s time to look at this in the light, clean it out as it no longer serves you well…and if you don’t do it voluntarily, you can be sure I’ll do it for you.”  In a phrase, ‘Pluto takes no prisoners’.  This ‘cleaning out’ can be represented by any number of things; philosophies, material possessions, relationships, careers; the list is endless.  Time to move on, unencumbered.

Uranus’ energy is quick, sudden and intense.  One of the things Uranus rules is electricity; got the picture? Move! Move! Move!  Uranus is the rebel; it wants us to ‘think out of the box’.  “Don’t be a lemming going over the cliff, how can you do yourself differently?”asks Uranus .  “Stop this dilly dallying and get on with it.”  Picture, feel this energy combined with the warrior Mars…definitely not for the faint of heart.  As I’ve said before, how and what these energies mean to each of us depends on where they ‘hit’ in  your birth chart.  This said, what resources are available to us that we can use to support us through this transition?

 ‘Transition’ IS the message of Dr. Edward Bach’s flower remedy, Walnut, per se.  As with each of Bach’s remedies, Walnut helps to clean our distorted lens, it shifts our perspective specifically and in this case, helps us to cut the ties we need to cut in order to move and meet the demands for change brought by this full moon.  Walnut has many facets, as they all do, but in this case another important aspect to note is Walnut’s ability to protect our solar plexus from assimilating unhealthy energy from others as we the discard unhelpful ‘things’.

Bach’s Crab Apple  is another good choice for this transition.  Bach identified Crab as the ultimate cleanser of all wounds.  So, as we are ‘cleaning out’ here, this remedy supports our process on many levels, not the least of which is dealing with the shame-based guilt that is sure to rear up its ugly head.

 With Walnut, Crab Apple and the determination to work with the energies of this full moon, we’re good to go.  What action will you be taking?  Inquiring minds want to KNOW! 

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 FULL MOON SEPTEMBER 29, 10:20 p.m., CST

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Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 2 Comments

The latter part of England’s twelfth century saw the increasing emergence of bibles, painstakingly created in the wealthiest of religious houses and cathedrals, certainly keeping everyone busy in the Scriptorium.  Among those that have survived time not to mention the sixteenth century Reformation, there is none more spectacular in its production and preservation than the four volumes of what is known as The Winchester Bible.   The largest of any known twelfth century bibles, Winchester’s masterpiece measures approximately 23 x 15 ¾ inches and contains 468 folios of incredibly smooth-appearing parchment pages.  To the untrained eye, it is so beautifully preserved that it appears to have been created ‘yesterday’ not 900 years ago, making the history of its production even more amazing.

 Recalling one of my previous posts (, ‘illuminating’ the practice of making marginal editorial remarks by restless and bone weary monks beavering away in the Scriptorium, it’s difficult to get one’s mind wrapped around the fact that the complete text of this bible was with a few exceptions, written by a single scribe!   However, whomever this scribe was, he actually was part of what we might term today, a ‘production team’, for his carefully written words needed the prepared parchment,  prepared ink, writing tools, colorful illumination and applied gold…techniques each requiring the specialized skills of various artisans.

It’s estimated that due to the size of the pages, an entire calf skin would have been needed to produce four pages, equaling roughly 250 calves at the end of the day.  Next, the preparation process of the parchment was extensive.  Steps included scraping, lime treatment, stretching, drying and washing before the finished product could be purchased from professional parchment makers.  Keeping in mind that parchment was also in demand for business purposes such as contracts, government charters and books produced by other monasteries and nunneries in Winchester, competitive commercial pricing most likely abounded resulting in extreme expense to the buyer.

Once the parchment was prepared, Jan Bartholomew, one of the Cathedral’s curators with whom I met, explained the process used to ensure that each page presented an identical size and shape of text, the ‘hallmark’ of a well-produced piece.  While certainly another laborious process, the finished product forms a consistent pattern of 54 lines set in two columns within precise margins.   She then explained that the illuminators, the artisans who produced the Rubicons and gold leaf, numbered only about six of traveling artists.  Their skills being in great demand throughout Europe, it’s easy to envision them moving from city to city, country to country.  Barcelona today, Winchester tomorrow…not much has changed in 900 years.

 Although the text itself was finished, it’s believed that the production of the artistry, the illuminations, added an additional span of possibly 15 years or more and at that, this was never finished.   Some 900 years later, there remains no conclusive evidence as to whom actually commissioned the Winchester Bible, although it’s highly thought that it might have been Henry of Blois who was Winchester’s Bishop in 1160 corresponding to the dating of the Bible’s layout and script.  Henry was quite the world traveler for his day and a builder.  After he left the great monastery of Cluny in France where he was brought up, Henry I of England placed him as Abbot of Glastonbury where he undertook a massive building program of this phenomenal abbey until his death in 1171.

 As for certainty that he was in fact, the patron behind the production of the Winchester Bible, like many things from the twelfth century, we’ll just never know.

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Possible tomb of  Henry  of Blois in Winchester Cathedral

Above photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

Pages from the Winchester Bible

The Winchester Bible©1993Claire Donovan


Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

On my recent trip to the UK, I purposely planned to spend unimpeded time in the medieval halls of London’s British Museum.  While I’ve visited the museum on previous trips, I’ve always been with other people preventing the opportunity to ‘wander’ to my heart’s content.  This time I did and was in ‘hog heaven’ as we say in the Midwest.

 So many unexpected delights made up my afternoon that the time spent was even richer than I’d hoped.  For example, months ago I’d planned to take the train north for a day to visit ‘The Staffordshire Hoard’which is on display in Birmingham’s Museum of Art.  However, by the time I actually got to London, I’d changed my planned itinerary so many times that Birmingham was no longer possible.  Little did I realize that I really wasn’t going to miss out due to the fact that the BM houses many, many stunning artifacts from other ‘hoards’ including the famous one discovered at Sutton Hoo. 

 While I could blog pages on all of the wonderful things I saw in just four hours’ time, of particular interest regarding my 12th century historical mysteries, was the museum’s ‘Hands On’ exhibit hall.  In this hall which is extensive, patrons have the opportunity to get ‘up close and personal’ with artifacts covering a myriad of interests, time frames and cultures, with the assistance of museum personnel.  I couldn’t believe they actually allow photography as well!  All I could think was, if I tried to photograph something in Chicago’s Field Museum, I most likely would be severely cautioned to “cease and desist” at the very least!

 In any case, it was in this ‘hall’ that I came across some ‘tools of the trade’ belonging to Queen Elizabeth I’s famous conjurer, Dr. John Dee (1527-1608/09), which according to the museum’s information, were acquired by the ‘antiquary and collector’, Sir Robert Cotton.  Descriptions of those photos which I’ve posted here are as follows…

 “The large wax disc, called the ‘Seal of God’ is engraved with magical names and symbols.  Dee used it as a support for his ‘shew-stones’, in which his medium allegedly saw visions of divine beings unveiling the secrets of the universe.  The two smaller discs (not pictured) are said to have supported Dee’s ‘Table of Practice’.  The golden disc is engraved with the so-called ‘Vision of the Four Castles.’  The black obsidian mirror, originally a Mexican Aztec cult object, was used for conjuring up spirits.”

 Although these ‘wondrous things’ (to quote Lord Carnarvon when he first peeked into Tutankhamen’s tomb) are roughly 400 years after the time frame I write in, one can’t resist being be dazzled when standing in front of them!

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.