The porch of the North Transept of Ampleforth Abbey is connected by a corridor which leads past the monks' refectory into the Central Building of the school. At the beginning of the corridor there is now displayed a history of Monasticism in general and Ampleforth in particular in an illuminated calligraphic manuscript.
My photos of the manuscript, column by column, can be found at these links:
Until I read it in 2006, I did not know that Dom Anselm Bolton was the last priest to be tried under the penal laws and had never heard of Dom Sigebert Buckley. So I typed it up for the ages.
It is a good read if stylistically clumsy. "The monks elected their own Abbot instead of the General Chapter, all monks even if they were not in Ampleforth or in the parishes took orders from their Abbot."
That sentence means the General Chapter of the English Benedictine Congregation no longer appointed Priors of Ampleforth, but instead the monks of Ampleforth elected an Abbot for themselves, and that all Ampleforth monks, wheresoever they might be (on the parishes, at St Benet's Hall), are under the Abbot's authority. It does not mean that Abbots ordain priests. "Took orders" is not, I think, a Catholic expression but Anglican.
"Benedictine monks played a major part in the conversion of England to Christianity and the formation of the Church of England". This means the Church in England, it does not mean the institution of which The Queen is Governor in which monks were far from welcome.
Ampleforth Abbey & College
The Abbey Church stands at the heart of Ampleforth, spiritually as well as visually. Its dominant position on the skyline sums up how each individual and every aspect of life are drawn to God and united in Him. This is the hope of a monastic community of men vowed to accept and find God in all the different parts of their daily lives, which should not be fragmented but rather integrated in Him. For this reason, the community at Amopleforth is a stable one. A man joins that community and there he belongs. Even if he is working for the community, away from Ampleforth, he does so as a member of the monastic family.
This community's unity is also expressed in prayer to God. The monks gather in the Abbey Church five or six times a day to praise God in the Mass and sung Office. This is open to all and attended by many. It is reinforced by private prayer and by study. The monks live the way of life set out by St Benedict nearly 1,500 years ago and he insisted that the mind and heart must be brought to God by reading, scripture and other spiritual writings. Monks go to study at Ampleforth's own house in Oxford, St Benet's Hall, or in other places of learning to prepare for ordination to the priesthood and to establish a basis of theology and spirituality in their lives. The unity of the community is also expressed in its work. Ampleforth's work has always been apostolic – to bring others closer to God. The school was founded and developed with that intention. It is an extension of the monastic family and exists to prepare boys for life as good Christians in the world or in God's service as monks and priests.
Thousands of people come to Ampleforth to share the monks' lives of prayer and silence, as guests or on retreat in the Grange, or to enjoy the beauty of the valley at the hostel at Redcar. Hospitality is a great Benedictine tradition. Ampleforth monks serve the local parishes and a dozen others throughout the north of England. This mission goes back to the days of persecution when Catholic priests showed great heroism to keep the faith alive. Now, Ampleforth is involved in a wider world through its parish commitment and also its small monastic community in Osmotherly and the Shrine of Mount Grace. The valley itself is a reminder of God and the farm with its dairy herd places the Abbey and school in a setting the beauty of which itself creates the peace which is the object of all monastic life.
Benedictine monasticism in England goes back to the seventh century. Benedictine monks played a major part in the conversion of England to Christianity and the formation of the Church of England. The medieval Church owed them a great debt. But with the coming of the Reformation the many monasteries in England were dissolved. Fifty years after the dissolution, Englishmen who wanted to become Benedictines were joining monasteries in Italy and Spain. Many of them also wanted to work for the maintenance of the Catholic faith in England and return as missionaries, priests working in hiding, risking imprisonment and death. Inevitably these men wanted to form a union of English Benedictines and the key step was taken in 1607 when the last survivor of Westminster Abbey, Dom Sigebert Buckley, affiliated two monks into his community. Westminster thus survived, at least in law, through them and they in turn affiliated others into this English Benedictine congregation.
At the same time monasteries were being established for the English Benedictines on the continent in Douai in 1607 and at Dieulouard in Lorraine in 1608 under the patronage of St Lawrence. As the first monks to be affiliated to Westminster became members of Dieulouard, that community was recognised as Westminster's heir. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the monastery at Dieulouard was small and strict, the community seldom more than sixteen or seventeen, almost all young men. The superior was a Prior who was appointed every four years by the governing body of the English Benedictine Congregation, the General Chapter, and he seldom served for more than eight or twelve years.
After ordination most of the priests travelled to England to serve on the English mission and one, St Alban Roe, was executed in London in 1642 for being a priest. In England a Benedictine was no longer subject to the Prior of his monastery but passed into the jurisdiction of a provincial, either in the north or in the south, who supervised the Benedictine missions. A few priests returned to their monasteries later but for most the move to England was final. An example of a priest missioner at the end of the eighteenth century was Fr Anselm Bolton, who served at Gilling Castle and then at Ampleforth from 1764 to 1802. Bolton was chaplain to the Catholic family of Lord Fairfax and acted also as steward of the estate. In 1786 he was the last man in England to be put on trial for working as a Catholic priest, but the case was dismissed. He moved from Gilling to Ampleforth in 1793 on the death of his patron, Miss Anne Fairfax, to a house specially built for him.
The situation of the English monks and nuns in France was transformed by the revolution of 1789, especially when war broke out between England and France in 1793. Monks and Nuns were imprisoned and the monasteries closed. The last Prior of the Dieulouard community, Fr. Richard Marsh, escaped, as did several other monks, and the rest were released later. They returned to England and after a series of abortive attempts between 1794 and 1802 to settle in Shropshire and Lancashire, they found a permanent home in Fr. Anselm Bolton's house at Ampleforth. Although at the time these events were seen as a disaster, the return to England was very essential for the growth and development of English monasticism.
The Dieulouard monks opened a school at Ampleforth with the tiny residual community in 1803. The relationship of monastery and school was close, it also provided vocations to the community. The nineteenth century brought gradual but uneven development of monastery and school. Wings were built, which added to the old house. Prior Wilfred Cooper built a church in 1857. The main school wing of 1861 was designed by Joseph Hanson, Prior Wilfrid Cooper came from a Lanacashire parish and was educated at Ampleforth, worked in Liverpool in the 1840s at the time of the typhus epidemic, in which a third of the priests died. He returned to Ampleforth as Prior in 1850. His thirteen years as superior were spent presiding over a great building programme plus doing many things to help restore & develop the monastic way of life. He died in his Liverpool parish aged fifty-seven.
In 1900 Ampleforth became an Abbey. This meant the Prior became Abbot, the Abbey was now an independent monastery. The monks elected their own Abbot instead of the General Chapter [of the EBC], all monks even if they were not in Ampleforth or in the parishes took orders from their Abbot. The essential idea of a Benedictine Abbot as a father of a community, responsible for the spiritual and material welfare of every individual, a guide and counsellor not just an administrator, had reached maturity in the community for the first time since its establishment at Dieulouard.
Fr. Anselm Burge presided over most of these changes, he promoted monastic studies and the education of the monks in secular subjects, opening a Permanent Private Hall in Oxford, where they could go and read for University degrees.
Calligrapher GW Stevenson
This calligraphic account of the lives of the Benedictines at Ampleforth was sponsored by Doris and Marjorie Padbury & Margaret Taylor from Bridlington (framed, mounted and glassed) date 13.9.99.
My photos of the manuscript, column by column, can be found at these links: