That man was perfect and upright and one that
a most zealous imitator of all pious works. The virtue of his
mind shone alone in his face, the outer man took the image
of his soul … Of necessity he performed the part of Martha
but in his heart he aspired to the leisure of Mary. (41)
[‘Foundation history of Fountains’ (Narratio)]
After the death of Fountains’ first
abbot, Richard, the community
was unanimous in its decision that the vacant abbacy should be filled by Prior
appointment was sanctioned by Bernard
of Clairvaux. Richard had been the sacrist of
St Mary’s, York, and had in fact instigated the reform movement there.
It was thus fitting that he should now lead the Fountains community, the fruit
of this reforming zeal. Richard, however, was reluctant to take on this role.
He was a spiritual man, rather than an administrator, and preferred to remain
free from worldly commitments and duties, and claimed that he was inadequate
to hold such an office. While this assertion is neither uncommon nor unusual,
the reason Richard cites is extremely interesting and suggests that the head
of a community was expected to be an eloquent and proficient speaker. Richard
refers to ‘a slowness of speech’ when addressing crowds, presumably
some sort of speech impediment. The foundation history attributes this ‘slowness
of speech’ to modesty, thus making a virtue of Richard’s ‘weakness’.
Despite his reluctance and shortcomings as an orator, Richard was elected to
the abbacy and accepted office in 1139.
I have not found in any
man such skill in comforting the sad, in raising up the fallen and in
finding out the hidden causes of the sickness of a conscience. Often
,I tell you, I have come to his feet to speak of my conscience and he
has anticipated me in the very things I was about to say, has sketched
for me, as it were, the form of my mind and to my amazement has told
me the whole state of my soul.
[Foundation history [Narratio], pp. 191-2.]
The foundation history portrays Abbot
Richard as a gentle and sensitive character, who wished to engage himself
wholeheartedly in spiritual affairs and shied
away from the limelight. Richard quietly consolidated the community, and
did not contribute much to the physical development of the abbey, that is,
to building work, he endeared himself to the monks with his tender and sensitive
manner. Perhaps because he disliked speaking, Richard was a skilled listener
who had a way with people. He was able to draw out the monks’ troubles
and confessions, to soothe and heal their worries. Richard was clearly much
loved by the community and Hugh
of Kirkstall, who compiled the foundation history,
speaks of him with fondness.