« The Sunday Paper | Main | She Made The Earth Move »

The Scrivener: And So The Immortals Pass By

Brian Barratt tells of some of the prophets and Messiahs who have littered Protestant Christianity in the past few centuries.

Brian writes brilliantly on a multitude of subjects. To read more of his memorable columns please click on The Scrivener in the menu on this page.

And please do visit his Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

A religious leader named Vernon Howell died in 1993, along with about eighty of his followers, when government agencies attempted unsuccessfully to serve him with a search warrant. The agencies were following up reports of arms trading and child abuse. Whether or not they should have attacked in the way they did is still subject to argument.

Howell had earlier changed his name to David Koresh, raised his status to Messianic proportions, and announced that he would change the world. His descendants would become rulers in the new order. All the females among his followers were to be the mothers of the chosen ones.

There are still followers who believe that he was God or Jesus.

There's nothing new in this sort of thing. In the past few centuries, the history of Protestant Christianity has been littered with prophets and Messiahs. One of them was the Rev. Henry James Prince, a Church of England cleric.

After a series of conflicts with the church, and moves from town to town, Prince announced in 1846 that he was the visible manifestation of God on earth. It seems that he also preferred not to wear any clothes when preaching.

He eventually set up his Agapemone, Abode of Love, at the village of Spaxton in the south of England. It comprised a group of houses on a large block of land surrounded by a high brick wall. There were, of course, rumours about what went on behind that wall. It was said that he deflowered virgins on a billiard table in his chapel, and chose a new 'Mrs Prince' each week from a revolving stage.

God on earth was sued in 1858 for obtaining money for his Abode of Love by deviously arranging the marriages of five sisters of another family and fleecing them of funds. Along the way, the sisters had each played their appointed role on the revolving stage. The Reverend Mr Price had to fork out £6,000 plus interest.

A short time after that, another clergyman raided the Abode of Love in order to rescue his wife. They found the loving disciples armed not only with sticks but also with guns. The clergyman couldn't find his wife, who was hiding from him.

Alas, he who had announced to the whole town that he came in the name of the Lord died in 1899. This did not diminish the belief of his followers that Agapemonites 'cannot see death, taste death, or know death' — they buried him in an upright standing position so that his resurrection would be a bit smoother.

Glory be, the Abode of Love did not wither away. A new leader arose. The Rev. John Hugh Smyth-Pigott declared in 1902, 'Brother Prince's testimony was true. And I who speak to you tonight, I am that Lord Jesus Christ, come again in my own body... behold, I am alive for evermore'.

A well-meaning social worker, Ruth Annie Preece, offered her services to the new Messiah. They were joined in form of 'marriage' by which she became the Spiritual Bride of the Lamb. There were three divine but illegitimate children, named Glory, Power and Life. The Church of England authorities summoned the new Messiah on a charge of immorality. He was unfrocked.

Everyone wanted to know what happened behind the high walls of the Abode of Love. It was said that Smyth-Pigott was obsessed with sex and had selected about fifty young 'soul brides'. Newspaper reporters had a field day. The closed community closed itself even more, in a similar way to such communities we have known about in recent years. History repeats itself.

The visible manifestation of God on earth died in 1927. Sister Ruth, his first Spiritual Bride of the Lamb, died in 1956.

And so the immortals pass by — Henry James Prince, John Hugh Smyth-Pigott, Vernon Howell alias David Koresh, to name just a few. But what of their devoted followers? As Abraham Lincoln probably said, 'You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.' Perhaps Phineas T. Barnum was closer to the mark if he really did say, 'There's a sucker born every minute'.

Encyclopædia Britannica 2007.
British Utopian Experiments 1325–1945 at:
Donaldson, W., Brewer's Rogues, Villains, Eccentrics, Cassell, London 2002.
Matthews, R., English Messiahs, Methuen & Co. Ltd, London 1936.

© Copyright 2008 Brian Barratt


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.