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.
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.
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.
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.