Friday, 11 May 2007

A Somerset Retreat


Just got back from a wonderful retreat at Downside Abbey in Somerset. This is the senior Benedictine house in Britain, recently having celebrated its fourth centenary of foundation. It has moved location over the years: first Douai in Flanders (until the French Revolution), then Acton Burnell in Shropshire and, from 1814, Downside. The abbey is famous for its school and for producing six martyrs (including SS John Roberts and Ambrose Barlow), a Cardinal (Aidan Gasquet) and eleven bishops (including some of the first members of the Australian hierarchy).

It's a good place for retreat - spacious grounds, decent accommodation, one of the best Catholic libraries in the country and, most importantly, a stupendous church, the work of architectural greats like Giles Gilbert Scott, Edward Hansom and Ninian Comper. Above is a view of the church (a minor basilica) from the exterior - pretty amazing given that the nave was built in 1925! There are many interesting tombs in the church, including that of Bishop Charles Walmesley, who, as Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, consecrated Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore - he is thus the father of the American hierarchy!
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The sacristy is interesting, with cubicles for each priest (including guests!):


Here is the altar of St Placid where I celebrated Mass this morning:


The last thing you expect to see whilst on a retreat is a military parade. Tuesday evening saw the school training corps 'beat retreat,' complete (much to my delight) with some Scottish pipers. It was very impressive! In the background you can see the original monastic church and the main school buildings:


Before leaving today, I went for a walk with my fellow priest retreatant. We passed the medieval church in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, with one of the more unusual church dedications: St Vigor (who was a disciple of St Vedast and sixth century bishop of Bayeux - as you all know).


Outside the nearby village of Holcombe there is an isolated medieval church - there used to be a surrounding village but this was devastated during the Black Death in the fourteenth century. So only the church survives, with its burial mounds.


Local tradition suggests that Holcombe saw the creation of the familiar nursery rhyme: 'Ring a ring o'roses/A pocketful of posies/Ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo/We all fall down.' This described the sudden onset of the disease - a red rash, smelly sores (the smell was hidden by posies), sneezing and death. The folk memory is continued in a local pub, Ring O'Roses, where we stopped for a glass of local ale. I'm sure the Abbey's friendly guestmaster, who happens to be the grandson of Hilaire Belloc, would have approved!
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The return to 'reality' is always rather difficult after a restful retreat - not helped by a long journey and an encounter with an aggressive homeless lady as I got to the front door of the presbytery (one of our 'regulars'). Still, I certainly feel my batteries are fully recharged.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Terry Nelson said...

You are so fortunte, what a wonderful retreat it must have been. Lovely photographs as well.

1:34 am  
Blogger the dĂșnadan said...

Some beautiful photos - and great to hear about a modern day Belloc!

7:39 am  
Blogger Fr. Dwight Longenecker said...

now i am homesick for England. I'm an oblate of Downside, and having lived just up the road in Chippenham, have spent many happy days there. thanks for the photos.

10:37 pm  
Blogger greatgable said...

The first Bishop of Lancaster, Thomas Wulstan Pearson was a monk at Downside.

fr paul harrison

8:14 pm  
Blogger ian said...

I use to live in the village of Holcombe many years ago. I went to school at the primary school and have relatives that are buried at the Old Church. I now reside in New Zealand and have not visited the area for many years. It would be great to see photos of the Old Church and woods that surround it. Thank you Ian

12:17 am  

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