Historical Note: During the recent excavations among the ruins of Thredbere Abbey, in southwest England, a cache of medieval manuscripts turned up. Most of the documents are merely lists of accounts and records of devotional acts, typical of any thriving fifteenth-century monastery. But one parchment has excited some scholarly interest. It seems to be a sort of diary composed by one Brother Marcositellus, scribe of the Abbey.
[quoteright'/>March, 1473. Our revered Abbotte, ye most hooli Brother Cerebriachus, hath been in meditatione with ye Brother Warius, who hath communicated to him a most ingenious Planne for ye Glorificatione of Godde. We are to forme a Societie of ye most pious among us, that ye Members whereof may by their Example then shew ye others of us ye true Path of Righteousness in this unhooli World. Ye two reverend Brothers have drawn up a Liste of Questiones, or Teste, ye answering of which will discern in our company those who Godde hath seen Fitte to grace with His infinitte Understandinqe.
April, 1473. Ye Questiones, an Hundred in number, have been put to alle ye Brothers. Each Questione begins with ye rubric Iesus Quaestionat, signifying our Lord doth Ask You, and therefore ye Teste hath been popularlie called Ye IQ Teste among ye Brothers; but it is more correctly clept a Teste of Scripture, as ye Questiones addresse ye little-known Facts in ye hooli Bookes. Some Dozen among us have now been able to answer Eight and Ninety out of ye Hundred, this beinge ye Requirement for Membershippe in ye new Societie. We looke for greate Thinges in this our new Venture.
August, 1473. Ye Members of ye new Societie have taken to meetinge late at Nighte, behinde clos'd Doors, they claiminge that this Practise does advance their spiritual Perfectione. But this doth not explaine ye grosse Quantitie of Wine and Beere that they doe consume therein, nor eke ye Soundes of loud Talke that doe bother ye lesse spiritual Monks during ye late nighte Hours withal. They calle themselves Ye Table Societie, after that article of Furniture that they are frequently found sleepinge under during Matins. We ordinary Brothers are stille waiting for Enlightenmente from ye Elect.
December, 1473. After much Complaint, ye Brothers of Ye Table Societie have agreed to publishe a Parchment every Monthe, ye which will disseminate ye greate spiritual Truths that they have discovered in their noisie eveninge Meditationes. Ye first of these hath been handed about, but it seemeth to me but a paltrie Tissue of platitudes and sillie Arguments, hardlie worthie of our Expectationes from this greate Worke. Ye Tablers, for soe they doe calle themselves, are now demandinge ye assistance of a few Nunnes in their nightly Proceedinges, ye better to advance their spiritual Perfectione.
February, 1474. Ye Tablers have got their Nunnes, and have begun a most strange Practise, ye Like of which hath never been seen in this or any other Abbey. They have cut a wine Barrell in Halfe, and constructed of it a sort of Bath, ye which the doe calle a Hot-Tubbe, which they fill with boilinge water and doe sitte therein with their Nunnes. It cannot be in service of Cleanlinesse, for they did all bathe ye last Swithin's Day with ye Rest of us; meseemeth it is some kind of Medicament for ye Purification of ye Braine.
April, 1474. It is Sadde for me to report, that among those most hooli Brothers, ye Tablers, there hath been much Dissensione and blasphemous Name-callinge, ye which hath disturbed this Abbey not a little. There appear to be now two Societies of Tablers, each callinge ye other ye Inne-Groupe, which meet in differente Roomes, but with as much Noise as before, and write nastie Parchments about eache other. This matter hath come to ye Attentione of ye Bishop. Godde help us all.
May, 1474. Well, ye Fatte is in ye Fyre now. Ye Most Hooli Reverend Bishop did arrive unexpectedly in ye Nighte, when ye Tablers were hard at it in their Hot-Tubbe, advancing ye spiritual Worke with much singing and sacramental Wine, and threw open ye Doors to ye Sanctums. This did send ye Nunnes scurryinge, and in truth they did not looke much like ye Nunnes one sees at hooli Shrines. Ye Most Hooli Reverend Bishop did then and there Dissolve ye Table Societie, and did adjure ye Brothers therein to do Penance for their Presumption. As a mere Scribe, it did me Goode to see these Fellowes taken down a Notche.
September, 1474. Ye Table Societie is not Deade after all. Ye ingenious Members thereof, after a Period of Despondencie following ye Departure of ye Most Hooli Reverend Bishop, did bethink themselves of a lesse Blasphemous way to resume their nightly spiritual Queste. They talke now of studyinge ye pagan Philosophers, ye better to shew up ye Errors of their anciente Bookes, and have for that Purpose constructed a new Teste, ye which contains Questiones of which I can make neither Heade nor Taile. Some of these Questiones ask one to count ye Blockes in a Pile of Masonrie; others ask for ye next Number in a meaninglesse Collectione; yet others demand a reply to such Drivell as Graine is to Breade as Grapes are to What. Godde save us from this new Madnesse, which is like to Breake up ye Abbey and bringe us alle to Ruine. Methinks it soundes much like Heresie, and not at alle to ye Likinge of My Lord ye Bishop, who doth not yet Know of it...
The rest of this manuscript is unreadable, having been scorched beyond recognition in the great fire of 1475 which destroyed Thredbere Abbey. Although the usually garrulous archives at Canterbury suddenly fall silent on this point, it appears that the Tablers fell to internecine warfare again. After one faction had set fire to the Abbey, the whole society was prorogued by the ecclesiastical authorities and its leaders were attached to a mendicant order in northern Scotland. The others who had been exposed to the idea were dispersed among the monasteries of England. All that remained were the ruins of Thredbere Abbey, which continue to excite wonder and inspiration in the visitor today.
George Towner was born in Reno and grew up near Berkeley. As a teenager he began making gangster movies using an old 8mm camera, one of which featured a car being pushed over a cliff off State Highway 1. He has started and sold two successful technology firms, and currently works for Apple Computer, where he is the most senior in age. He lives with his wife in Sunnyvale. They have two daughters and a son.
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