A Norbertine in Devon

Brother Gregory has been to the Benedictine Abbey of Buckfast in Devon a few times this summer. The first time, he was leading a retreat for a parish that had kindly booked him for that purpose, and the second time was to visit the School of the Annunciation: centre for the new evangelisation (schooloftheannunciation.com). The School offers a variety of diplomas and courses focusing on the new evangelisation and catechesis, and he can warmly recommend it to you, both priest and lay.

For his talks earlier in the summer, he spoke to the retreatants about his second-favourite subject: Late Second Temple Judaism and Temple Typology in the Old Testament. Thrilling stuff. Interestingly, the subject matter suited the setting perfectly.


The Church itself was completed in the 1930s, during the tenure of Abbot Ansgar Vonier, who was an important theological and spiritual writer in that period. Consequently, the church building itself radiates biblical symbolism. It has a very masculine and Saxon feel to it, helped by the substantial columns, small windows, and polished black marble. Still, the side chapels (of which there are six) are beautifully decorated, intricate, and elegant. In the north transept (on the left-hand side of cruciform church) is the Lady chapel; on the opposite side is the Holy Cross chapel, now also containing the hair shirt of St Thomas More on permanent display for veneration.


At the high Altar is a golden reredos depicting Pentecost; Christ presides over the sacred banquet in heavenly splendour, and underneath him are the Apostles and Our Lady, nourished by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This scene on the reredos is ‘actualised’ at the altar itself directly underneath this image: the priest, monks and (in the distance) the laity participate in this sacred banquet as Our Lady and the Apostles do now in heaven; we cannot see the gifts of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire, but the candles of the altar symbolically represent them (thus, when the bishop celebrates solemnly, he has seven flames burning at the altar). On the marble and gold altar itself is an image of the Lamb, Living though Slain, which, during the Mass, is actually present on the altar itself. The altar itself is placed in front of a column between two arches, symbolising the old and new testaments, and the two natures of Christ. These arches are ‘filled in’ with a red curtain that is reminiscent of the red veil inside of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. Both the altar, the Lamb and ourselves are on ‘this’ side of the veil, unlike the old Temple, wherein God dwelt on the ‘other’ side, because Christ has rent that veil in two; heaven is now ‘open’ thanks to the Paschal Mystery.

And on the ceiling of the Tower, above the altar, is a beautiful image of Christ, surrounded by Our Lady, St John the Baptist, the old testament prophets and the doctors of the Church. Around Christ are written the words of the prophet Haggai: “Great shall be the glory of this last house more than of the first, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place, I will give peace.”

The religious life on earth is a figure of the life of heaven; the same is true for the earthly liturgy, whereby we participate in the heavenly liturgy, seeing God face-to-face. The purpose of our lives here on earth is to allow God to fit us, to prepare us for his heavenly banquet. At the very top of the east wall of the Church, high above the altar, is an image of the coronation of Our Lady: the fulfilment of our promise of future glory.


Abbot Anscar

Beside the High Altar is the burial place of Abbot Anscar, and above his tomb is a beautiful bronze memorial, depicting his life, his work and the building of the monastery (the monks largely built the monastery themselves). The last scene in the life-story of this monk shows the Abbot in his cowl, standing outside the completed church, being touched on the shoulder by death, and giving up the ghost. He died shortly after the completion of the church in 1938.


The memorial of Abbot Anscar

But these little scenes on this memorial are dwarfed by the main figures. In the bottom-right corner is Abbot Anscar, wearing a chasuble, on his knees, his hands open towards heaven; he is looking to the top-left, where there is a beautiful image of Christ crowned, with his own hands open as a sign of welcome to this saintly priest. The abbot spent his life completely for Christ, saved from a shipwreck, becoming father of his community, building the church, and, of course, in his study and writing. All of it was but a preparation for the life of glory that I hope he now enjoys in the perfect monastery of heaven, as, indeed, I hope we all enjoy one day:

“And in this place, I will give peace.”

* * *

There is, of course, little actual connexion between Buckfast and the Premonstrant Order, although there was one historically. Originally, the Abbey was Cistercian, with whom our Order has a historical and charitable bond. Nearby (unusually, since Cistercian and Norbertine Abbeys tended to keep a fair distance to avoid competition) was the old Norbertine Abbey of Torre. The local town took the name of that Abbey, becoming Torquay(the whole area today is called Torbay); the Abbot, however, had a bolt hole down the road, and around him developed a new town. Today, that settlement is called Newton Abbot. No doubt, in days of yore, the roads around Buckfast saw white habits blowing about in the wind, as today it sees black ones.

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Our Lady of Sorrows, 2016

Today marks the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which is kept as a solemnity in the Priory as she is one of the patrons of our canonry, together with St Philip Benizi. These photos were taken after First Vespers of Our Lady of Sorrows and during yesterday evening’s Holy Hour.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us

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First Vespers of OHF Augustine and Clothing of Br Gildas

Tonight we celebrated First Vespers of Our Holy Father Augustine and also clothed our new novice, Dylan Parry, who shall henceforth be known as Br Gildas.


Please keep Br Gildas, and the community, in your prayers as we celebrate this great solemnity.

For more pictures please visit our Facebook page: http://bit.ly/2btqymY


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Retreat on Prayer

This week, the priory enjoyed a retreat given by Father Paul Rowse O.P., of the Australian Province of the Order of Preachers. His subject, at our request, was prayer.

We thank Father Paul for his wonderful and insightful retreat, for his kindness in and to the community, an his Order for allowing him to come and spend time with us.

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Father Paul with some of the community after the final blessing

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Visit to Mondaye

After a whirlwind tour of Csorna last weekend, Brother Gregory enjoyed a slightly longer visit to the Abbey of St Martin at Mondaye in Normandy.

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The abbey was founded in 1210, and has seen its fair share of history. Repeatedly ravaged (by the English) during the Hundred Years’ War, it was once more burned during the Reformation, its abbot, Julien, martyred by Protestant fanatics. In the seventeenth-century, the abbey became part of the primitive observance branch of our Order (which was arranged by national provinces, rather than as independent abbeys). During this period, in the eighteenth-century, the abbey was completely re-built, and largely decorated by one man, the Prior, Eustace Restout. At the revolution, there were 17 confreres, one of which signed the civil constitution, although he later recanted.

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Spending some years as a secular college, and then a Trappist convent, the building was restored to the Order in 1859 when a foundation was made from Grimbergen. This, however, would not last long; the abbot was exiled in 1880, and the entire community were forced to leave for Belgium in 1902. The house has been continuously occupied, however since 1921, when the community returned after the Great War. The church itself was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in the second War, the scars of which can still be seen in the chancel.

Today, the community is thriving.



Courgettes in the mist



The local war memorial



The final resting place of the last abbot of Premontre, Jean Baptise L’Ecuy

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I am very grateful for the hospitality of the brothers at Mondaye. While I was there, Brother Norbert (at the same time as whom I entered the Order in 2012, and who looked after me on my visit this year) took me on pilgrimage to see the relics of St Therese at Lisieux; we also saw the cathedral in Bayeux, as well as the Tapestry, which I found particularly exciting, and the British war cemetery. We visited a nearby manor house, next to which live the Sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, which is a Vietnamese Congregation, three of whom live and work near Mondaye.

With Brother Julien, who visited Chelmsford when he was a junior, we travelled to see Omaha Beach and the American cemetery, and enjoyed crepes and iced tea on the sea front.


Omaha Beach

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Visit to Csorna

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This weekend, Brother Gregory made a whirlwind tour of Hungary for the Solemn Profession of Brother Janos in the Abbey of St Michael in Csorna.

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The community of Csorna. Our Norbertine brothers in the Hungarian circary wear blue sashes and buttons on their habits, a privilege given them by the Queen of Hungary.


Csorna is in the north-west of Hungary, not too far from the border with Austria and Slovakia, and was founded in 1180. Over the centuries, it has been invaded by Turks and communists, the latter of which tried very hard to extinguish the sons of St Norbert, but they happily returned to this ancient house in 1990. On my visit this weekend, I was privileged to be able to talk to the Abbot Emeritus, who was a novice in the abbey before it was closed by the communists. In those days, the noviciate dormitory was what is now the refectory.

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The singing of the Suscipe


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Prostration during the litany


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And most importantly…


I am very grateful for their hospitality (and for speaking English!), but especially for being given the room of Cardinal Mindszenty: I must say, I slept very well in his former bed!

May the Lord look kindly upon our Hungarian brothers, and Brother Janos, that he may persevere as a faithful son of St Norbert.

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Mass for Fr Jacques Hamel

Following on from the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel at the hands of Islamic extremists on 26th July we will be offering Mass for the repose of his soul, and for the persecuted Church, at 12 p.m. on Saturday 30th July in Our Lady Immaculate Church, Chelmsford; this will be preceded by Holy Hour and confessions from 11 a.m.

Rev 6:9 “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God”.

Hamel Mass copy

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