Saturday, 23 July 2016

Memories of Stanbrook Abbey

It took me six hours yesterday to edit and upload eighty odd photos I took in Tortosa on Friday. It's an indication of how slow is the house broadband here. While it was uploading every other device was slowed to a crawl. My Sunday sermon was already done, but there was washing to do, and a small amount of shopping. On the weekend I cook enough food for a main meal for Saturday and Sunday, so that preparing lunch doesn't take long when I get back from church.

In the evening, there was another excellent episode of 'Beck' to enjoy on BBC4, also a historical documentary about Julian of Norwich, and survival of a manuscript of the sadly lost original text of her 14th century book 'Revelations of Divine Love' through the work of generations of monastic copyists particularly the Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey. A group of English catholic women went to Cambrai France in the seventeenth century to live the Benedictine life and start what  later became Stanbrook Abbey in a place free from persecution. They took with them a manuscript version to use as a spiritual resource, and to make handwritten copies of, as a traditional form of monastic labour. 

The story of their escape back to England during the anti-religious purge of the French revolution is remarkable. Also remarkable about this story is that the much published 1902 print edition was derived from the sole known manuscript copy held in the British Library, by Grace Warrack, daughter of a Scottish Wee Free minister. Nothing is known about how she came to learn of this work, or became interested in transcribing and translating it into modern English. Julian's work is regarded as the first example of English prose literature, as well as a first by a woman writer. Its very survival is a remarkable story of providence and faithfulness.

Clare and I visited Stanbrook Abbey while we were students fifty years ago, when the community lived at Callow End in rural Worcestershire. Clare was studying Latin liturgical drama at the time, and was recommended to go and meet Dame Felicitas Corrigan, a scholarly expert in the subject, so we visited her there for an afternoon's conversation. In 2008 the community sold up and moved from there to North Yorkshire, to a strikingly beautiful new purpose built monastery on the moors, designed with a smaller community and sustainable living in mind. It was wonderful to get glimpses of the place during the programme. It was a great reminder of the quiet but substantial role that Benedictine monasticism has played in the spiritual formation of Britain, not only pre-reformation, but through the centuries, right down to today.


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