Read THE RELIGIOUS LIFE - CHAPTER I. of The Christian A Story, free online book, by Hall Caine, on

The Society of the Holy Gethsemane, popularly called the Bishopsgate Fathers, was one of the many conventual institutions of the English Church which came as a sequel to the great upheaval of religious feeling known as the Tractarian or Oxford movement.  Most of them gave way under the pressure of external opposition, some of them broke down under the strain of internal dissension, and a few lived on as secret brotherhoods, in obedience to a rule which was never divulged by their members, who were said to wear a hair shirt next the skin and to scourge themselves with the lash of discipline.

Of these conventual institutions the Society of the Holy Gethsemane had been one of the earliest, and it was now quite the oldest, although it had challenged not only the traditions of the Reformed Church but the spirit of the age itself by establishing its place of prayer at the very doors of the Stock Exchangethat crater of volcanic emotions, that generating house for the electric currents of the world.

Its founder and first Superior had been a man of iron will, who had fought his way through ecclesiastical courts and popular anger, and even family persecution, which had culminated in an effort of his own brother to shut him up as a lunatic.  His first disciple and most stanch supporter had been the Rev. Charles Frederic Lamplugh, a fellow of Corpus, newly called to orders after an earlier career which had been devoted to the world, and, according to rumour, nearly wrecked in an affair of the heart.

When the community had proved its legal right to exist within the Establishment and public clamour had subsided, this disciple was despatched to America, and there he established a branch brotherhood and became great and famous.  At the height of his usefulness and renown he was recalled, and this exercise of authority provoked a universal outcry among his admirers.  But he obeyed; he left his fame and glory in America and returned to his cell in London, and was no more heard of by the outer world until the founder of the society died, when he was elected by the brothers to the vacant place of Superior.

Father Lamplugh was now a man of seventy, so gentle in his manner, so sweet in his temper, so pious in his life, that when he stepped out of his room to greet John Storm on his arrival in Bishopsgate Street it seemed as if he brought the air of heaven in the rustle of his habit, and to have come from the holy of holies.

“Welcome! welcome!” he said.  “I knew you would come to us; I have been expecting you.  The first time I saw you I said to myself:  ’Here is one who bears a burden; the world can not satisfy the cravings of a heart like that; he will surrender it some day.’”

Having been there before, though in “Retreat” only, he entered at once into the life of the Brotherhood.  It was arranged that he was to spend some two or three months as postulant, then to take the vow of a novice for one year, and finally, if he proved his vocation, to seal and establish his calling by taking the three life vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The home of the Brotherhood was one of those old London mansions in the heart of the city, which were built perhaps for the palaces of dignitaries of the Church, and were afterward occupied as the houses and offices of London merchants and their apprentices, and have eventually descended to the condition of warehouses and stores and tenement dwellings for the poor.  Its structure remained the same, but the brothers made no effort to support its ancient grandeur.  Nothing more simple can be imagined than the appointments of their monastery.  The carved-oak staircase was there, but the stairs wore carpetless, and the panelled and parqueted hall was bare of ornament, except for a picture, in a pale oaken frame, of the head of Christ in its crown of thorns.  A plain clock in a deal case was nailed up under the floral cornice, and beneath it there hung the text:  “Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon thy holy hill?  Even he that leadeth an uncorrupt life.”  The old dining-room was now the community room, the old kitchen was the refectory, the spacious bedrooms were partitioned into cells, and the corridors, which had once been covered with tapestry, were now coated with whitewash, and bore the inscription, “Silence in the passages.”

In this house of poverty and dignity, of past grandeur and present simplicity, the brothers lived in community.  They were forty in number, consisting of ten lay brothers, ten novices, and twenty professed Fathers.  The lay brothers, who were under the special direction of their own Superior, the Father Minister, and were rarely allowed to go into the street, had to clean the house and bake the bread and cook and serve the food which was delivered at the door, and thus, in that narrow circle of duty, they proved their piety by their devotion to a lot which condemned them to scour and scrub to the last day of life.  The clerical brothers, who were nearly all in full orders, enjoyed a more varied existence, being confined to the precincts only during a part of their novitiate, and then sent out at the will of the Superior to preach in the churches of London or the country, and even despatched on expeditions to establish missions abroad.

The lay brothers had their separate retiring room, but John Storm met his clerical housemates on the night of his arrival.  It was the hour of evening recreation, and they were gathered in the community room for reading and conversation.  The stately old dining-room was as destitute as the corridors of adornments or even furniture.  Straw armchairs stood on the clean, white floor; a bookcase, containing many volumes of the Fathers, lined one of the panelled walls; and over the majestic fireplace there was a plain card with the inscription, “There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.”

The brothers gathered about him and examined him with a curiosity which was more than personal.  To this group of men, detached from life, the arrival of some one from the outer world was an event of interest.  He knew what wars had been waged, what epidemics were raging, what Governments had risen and fallen.  He might not speak of these things in casual talk, for it was against rule to discuss, for its own sake, what had been seen or heard outside, but they were in the air about him, and they were happening on the other side of the wall.

And he on his part also examined his housemates, and; tried to guess what manner of men they were and what had brought them to that place.  They were men of all ages, and nearly every school of the Church had sent its representatives.  Here was the pale face of the ascetic, and there the guileless eyes of the saint.  Some were keen and alert, others were timid and slow.  All wore the long black cassock of the community, and many wore the rope with three knots.  They spoke little of the world outside, but it was clear that they could not dismiss it from their thoughts.  Their talk was cheerful, and the Father told stories of his preaching expeditions which provoked some laughter.  They had no newspapers (except one well-known High-Church organ) and no games, and there was no smoking.

The bell rang for supper, and they went down to the refectory.  It was a large apartment in the basement, and it still bore the emblems of its ancient service.  Over the great kitchen ingle there was yet another card with the inscription, “Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.”  A table, scoured white, ran round three sides of the room, the seats were forms without backs, and there was one chairthe Superior’s chairin the middle.

The supper consisted of porridge and milk and brown bread, and it was eaten out of plates and cans of pewter.  While it lasted one of the brothers, seated at a raised desk, read first a few passages of Scripture, and then some pages, of a secular book which the religious were thus hearing at their meals.  The supper was hardly over when the bell rang again.  It was time for Compline, the last service of the day, and the brothers formed in procession and passed out of the house, across the courtyard, into the little church.

The old place was dimly lighted, but the brothers occupied the chancel only.  They sat in two companies on opposite sides of the choir, in three rows of stalls, the lay brothers in front, the novices next, and the Fathers at the back.  Each side had its leader in the recitation of the prayers.  The Miserere was said kneeling, the Psalms were sung with frequent pauses, each of the duration of the words “Ave Maria,” producing the effect of a broken wail.  The service was short, and it ended with “May the Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.”  There was another stroke of the bell, and the brothers returned to the house in silence.

John Storm walked with the Superior, and passing through the courtyard, in the light of the moon that had risen while they were at prayers, he was startled by the sound of something.

“Only the creaking of the sycamore,” said the Father.

He had thought it was the voice of Glory, but he had been hearing her cry throughout the service, so he dismissed the circumstance as a dream.  Half an hour later the household had retired for the night, the lights were put out, and the Society of the Gethsemane was at rest.

John’s cell was on the topmost floor, next to the quarters of the lay brothers.  There was nothing above it but a high lead flat, which was sometimes used by the religious as watch-tower and breathing place.  The cell was a narrow room with bare floor, a small table, one chair, a prayingstool, a crucifix, and a stump bed, having a straw pillow and a crimson coverlet marked with a large white cross.

“Here,” he thought, “my journey is at an end.  This is my resting-place for life.”  The mighty hand of the Church was on him and he felt a deep peace.  He was like a ship that had been tossed at sea and was lying quiet in harbour at last.

Without was the world, the fantastic world, forever changing; within were gentle if strict rules and customs securely fixed.  Without was the ceaseless ebb and flow of the financial tide; within were content and sweet poverty and no disturbing fears.  Without were struggle and strife and the fever of gain; within were peace and happiness and the grand mysteries which God reveals to the soul in solitude.

He began to pass his life in review and to think:  “Well, it is all over, at all events.  I shall never leave this place.  Friends who forgive me, good-bye!  And foes who are unforgiving, good-bye to you too!

“And the worldthe great, vain, cruel, hypocritical worldfarewell to it also!  Farewell to its pomp and its glory!  Farewell to life, and liberty, andlove ”

The wind was rustling the leaves of the tree in the courtyard, and he could not help but hear again the voice he had heard when crossing from the church.  His eyes were closed, but Glory’s face, with its curling and twitching lip and its laughing and liquid eyes, was printed on the darkness.

“Ave Maria,” he murmured; and saying this again and again, he fell asleep.

Next morning the daylight had not quite dawned when he was awakened by a knock at his door and a low voice saying, “Benedicamus Domino!”

It was the Father Superior, who made it his rule to rouse the household himself, on the principle of “whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.”

Deo Gratias,” he answered, and the voice went on through the corridor.  Then the bell rang for Lauds and Prime, and John left his cell to begin his life as Brother Storm.