To the community’s surprise, in 1904, he chose an outsider to become his ‘Bride of the Lamb’ or his ‘Chief Soul Bride’, a position the new Sister Ruth took unhesitatingly and with no apparent protest from Catherine. The precise nature of the relationship was soon revealed – three children called Glory, Power and Life were born within a few years. The response of the Church of England was to defrock Smyth-Pigott, but his reaction was: ‘I am God. It does not matter what they do’.
As the years passed and Ruth aged, the dictator of the predominantly female community began to look for a new and younger ‘Bride of the Lamb’ and a Sister Grace was courted under the guise of religious instruction. Ruth resolved not to give in without a fight and challenged Smyth-Pigott in his private quarters. The consequence of this argument was that the poor woman was publicly derobed in the chapel and replaced by Sister Grace. Ruth left the community without her children.
After the departure of Ruth, Smyth-Pigott gave up all pretence of a Chief Soul Bride and the outside world turned aggressively towards the Agapemonites. Demonstrations outside the gates were not uncommon and in one of the most brutal attacks a male member of the sect was mistaken for Smyth-Pigott and was beaten, tarred and feathered. A little later the man died.
The leader took one more official soul-bride but it was thought that there were many others. At times of heavy press attention he would take holidays abroad to other Agapemonite branches, mainly in Norway. These visits also won converts who would then come to Spaxton as paying guests.
Despite the manner of Ruth’s departure, Smyth-Pigott had always regretted that she had left. So he hired private investigators to track her down and then implored her to return. When she eventually agreed to come back it was not as a Chief Soul Bride, but with pity rather than love, as a dignified woman who bore the marks of intense suffering.
During the mid 1920s the health of the ‘Messiah’ began to decline, as did the financial well-being of the sect due to some injudicious building extensions and the world slump. And in March 1927 the second ‘immortal’ leader died – many mourners joined Catherine and Ruth at the graveside of a man who must be one of Somerset’s greatest charlatans.
Unchallenged, the leadership switched to Douglas Hamilton who did not have the youth or the charisma to enable the movement to grow. By 1929 numbers had dwindled to thirty women and three men (Hamilton and a couple of gardeners). Eventually, the meaningless leadership title fell to Ruth in her old age. Before she died at the age of 90 she willed that the chapel should be consecrated and the movement at Spaxton folded completely two years later.
– Source: Malcolm Rigby, The Abode of Love, Somerset Gateway, May, 2000.
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