Forfeited Property in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIV

The reformers now began to upbraid each other with the very crimes of which they had accused the clergy in England. When mention is made of the immense sums of money which were obtained by the confiscation of religious houses at this period, it has been commonly and naturally supposed, that the religious were possessors of immense wealth, which they hoarded up for their own benefit; and although each person made a vow of poverty, it is thought that what was possessed collectively, was enjoyed individually. But this false impression arises (1) from a mistaken idea of monastic life, and (2) from a misapprehension as to the kind of property possessed by the religious.

A brief account of some of the property forfeited in Ireland, will explain this important matter. We do not find in any instance that religious communities had large funds of money. If they had extensive tracts of land, they were rather the property of the poor, who farmed them, than of the friars, who held them in trust. Any profit they produced made no addition to the fare or the clothing of the religious, for both fare and clothing were regulated by certain rules framed by the original founders, and which could not be altered. These rules invariably required the use of the plainest diet and of the coarsest habits.

A considerable portion—indeed, by far the most considerable portion—of conventual wealth, consisted in the sacred vessels and ornaments. These had been bestowed on the monastic churches by benefactors, who considered that what was used in the service of God should be the best which man could offer. The monk was none the richer if he offered the sacrifice to the Eternal Majesty each morning in a chalice of gold, encrusted with the most precious jewels; but if it were right and fitting to present that chalice to God for the service of His Divine Majesty, who shall estimate the guilt of those who presumed to take the gift from Him to whom it had been given? We know how terrible was the judgment which came upon a heathen monarch who dared to use the vessels which had belonged to the Jewish Temple, and we may well believe that a still more terrible judgment is prepared for those who desecrate Christian churches, and that it will be none the less sure, because, under the new dispensation of mercy, it comes less swiftly.