Friday, 15 December 2006


Now, I've heard of the 'Blackfriars' (Dominicans), 'Greyfriars' (Franciscans) and 'Whitefriars' (Carmelites), but I only came across the 'Bluefriars' the other day on the Wikipedia. 'Bluefriars' was the name apparently given to the members of the College of Bonhommes at Ashridge, Hertfordshire. This house was founded by Edmund, Earl of Cornwall in 1283, who granted it a major relic that he had obtained from Germany - a phial of the Precious Blood. This made Ashridge a centre of pilgrimage up until the Reformation and the pilgrims included Edward I (at Christmas 1290) and the 'Black Prince' (who was considered the second founder of the house).

The 'bonhommes' were a community of priests who followed the Rule of St Augustine and were ruled over by a 'Rector' and his assistant, the 'corrector.' Nobody seems to know much about them - even whether to correctly describe them as monks, friars or canons! Clad in their grey-blue habits, the brothers never grew beyond the mother house at Ashridge and further foundations at Edington, Wiltshire and (possibly) Ruthin, Denbighshire (North Wales). Some confuse them with the Grandmontines; others accuse them of Albigensian sympathies (although this may be due to a confusion with the bonshommes, a name sometimes given to the Cathars).

When Henry VIII broke with Rome the relic of the Precious Blood at Ashridge was declared to be nothing but coloured honey and the house was dissolved and passed into the hands of the Crown and (between 1604 and 1848) the Dukes and Earls of Bridgewater. The seventh Earl built the present neo-Gothic Ashridge House, now a business college.

The last Rector of the College of the Bonhommes, Thomas Waterhouse, like so many, made no public protest at the Dissolution but privately adhered to the Old Faith. He carefully preserved his priestly vestments, which he bequeathed to various churches at his death in 1554.



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