Agapemonites and the Abode of Love


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The 19th century produced the most spectacular recent claimants to messiahship in Britain. Among these were two men, one of whom ‘inherited’ this claim from the other. Such a transfer of a status as unique as that of messiah must be unprecedented… and yet the group known as Agapemonites, brought into being in the 1840s by an Anglican priest, Henry James Prince, accepted after his death a new immortal messiah in the person of John Hugh Smyth-Pigott. Prince had been renowned at St David’s, Lampeter, where he had studied for the Anglican priesthood, as a particularly pious student… after some time his relations with the Church of England became strained, and he opened his own chapel in Brighton. With donations from his supporters, among whom were a number of wealthy women, he bought a large house and grounds at Spraxton in Somerset, and there established his community, the Adobe of Love…

“From Brighton, Prince returned to Somerse with 30,000 pounds in his pockets, most of it contributed by his society admirers. He and his followers traveled in a long procession of carriages with liveried coachmen and postilons, and at Weymouth the entourage stayed at the Royal Hotel, where Prince held a reception and announced his plans for the setting up of an Agapemone or Abode of Love… Some 200 local people of influence, invited especially for this purpose, crowded into the ballroom and agreed to give up all or part of their worldly possessions in order to be saved. With this money, a considerable sum, Prince in 1849 bought a plot of land on the outskirts of Spaxton… The estate was self-sufficient and consisted of about 200 acres. There were at first about 60 disciples in residence, with their servants. ”

“Finally, in January 1899, when he was almost 88, Brother Prince [died]… This should be the end of the story of the Abode of Love, but it is not. In 1890 and for several years afterwards there had been a remarkable revival of interest in the Agapemone. Several prominent members of the Salvation Army joined.

At Clapton, London, the Children of the Resurrection, as they now called themselves, built in 1892 a magnificent church, the Ark of the Covenant, seating about 400 people… The preacher at the opening ceremony in 1896 was the Rev. J. H. Smyth-Pigott, who was to be Brother Prince’s successor at Spaxton. ”

“[Prince’s] own death, in 1899, might have been expected to see the collapse of the Agapemonites: instead it produced a new messianic claimant. Shortly before his death, Prince had sponsored the building of a church in Clapton, London, known as the Church of the Ark of the Covenant. This development was all the more surprising since in Prince’s later years the Agapemonites had done little in the way of evangelization. It is uncertain whether the founding of this church, at which non-resident sympathizers of the Spraxton community occasionally met, had any direct connection with the choice of Prince’s successor, or whether Prince had any interest in the continuance of his sect after his death. But it was at this church that, in 1902, John Hugh Smyth-Pigott declared himself the messiah. ”

“Smyth-Pigott moved down to Spaxton… In 1906 a male child was born to Miss [Ruth] Preece, the records at Somerset House showing that the father was John Hugh Smyth-Pigott… At this time there were nearly 100 women in the Abode, but few men… Smyth-Pigott died in March 1927 [at the age] of 75. It was reported that the servants were unpaid, working for love and receiving only a little pocket money. ”

“The numbers at Spraxton, sometimes reinforced by visitors from a Norwegian sister house which Smyth-Pigott frequently visited, steadily declined, and the messiah’s death in 1927 reduced the numbers further. ”

“In 1955 60-year-old Miss Ruth Ranken of Barnet revealed that she had been brought up as a member of the sect, and was still one in spirit… In 1962 the house of Spaxton was sold and the story of the Abode of Love [‘Agapemone’] came to an end. ”
– Source: Cavendish, Richard (ed.). Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural (vol. 13). New York: Marshall Cavendish Corp. (1970)


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