Kate Barlow grew up knowing her family was “different” but was unclear about the details. In 1948, Kate, her mother and her two sisters moved into their grandmother’s home Agapemone (Greek for “abode of love”), after her parents separated. Twenty elderly ladies shared a house with their grandmother, and joined her in revering Barlow’s grandfather, who all referred to as “Dear Bèloved.”
Whenever Barlow asked questions about her grandfather, the house or the elderly ladies, she was met with evasion, until the day she found out the truth from a school friend who asked her “Did you know your grandfather said he was Jesus?” In one moment Barlow’s life was turned upside down as she discovered that her grandfather claimed to be the Messiah and that her grandparents were never legally wed. Not only was Agapemone the home where Barlow lived, it had been home to a notorious cult led by her grandfather, the Reverend Smyth-Pigott.
Spaxton, a quiet village in Somerset, was an unlikely home for an infamous cult. Established in 1846 by Reverend Henry Prince, Agapemone was a collection of houses and cottages, the manor house and a chapel called Eden, all surrounded by a high wall and guarded by dogs and the village constabulary. After the death of Reverend Prince, Barlow’s grandfather succeeded to the leadership and arranged for the construction of a magnificent temple in London.
Abode of Love: Growing Up in a Messianic Cult is the first book about Agapemone written by an insider. Barlow’s extensive research is evident in the details included about the cult’s history, as well as reminiscences of former members, culled from newspapers articles of the day and interviews conducted by Barlow and her sisters. Abode of Love reads like a work of fiction and, the blending of the cult’s history with personal memories, creates a work which is difficult to put down.
To modern readers, the story of Reverend Prince’s cult sound commonplace: sex scandals; accusations of brainwashing; dramatic rescues of members by their families; moral outrage from respectable society; and virulent attacks in the popular press. In the 19th century, the tales of Agapemone and Reverend Prince’s actions, led to public outcries of indecency and a court case brought against Reverend Prince. The taint lingered around the community long after the deaths of Reverend Prince (the first incarnation of Jesus) and Barlow’s grandfather, affecting the way Barlow and her sisters were raised.
Barlow and her sisters spent their educational years at boarding school, a decision her mother made in the hope that the girls would have a chance at a normal future, away from Agapemone. Abode of Love is Barlow’s struggle to come to terms with her family’s skeletons, dispel some of the mystery surrounding her grandparents, and close the door on a childhood unlike any other.
Publisher: Goose Lake Editions
Publication Date: September 2006
tags: books book reviews Agapemone Kate Barlow Abode of Love cult memoir