Friday, 5 October 2007

Visiting Mount Saint Bernard Abbey

Visiting Mount Saint Bernard Abbey.
28 Sept – 3 Oct 2007

We were most grateful for the kind hospitality extended to us by Abbot Joseph and the community.

Fr. Nivard, Br. Celestine and myself as driver, did the round trip, 600 miles, to Mt St Bernard Abbey, Leicester.
On the return journey the Abbot-elect of Bamenda, Dom Charles, accompanied us for his first visit to Nunraw. En route to the North we made the short diversion to
visit Holy Island, Lindisfarne.

Fr. Nivard, at present at Nunraw, was making his ‘ad limina’, as it were, visit to his Mother House. He entered MSB in 1952 and in 1964 was sent on the Foundation in Bamenda, Cameroon, where he made his Stability.

Br. Celestine, from Nigeria, is a member of the community at Nunraw. He has commenced the Distance Learning Course on Theology at the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. He attended a weekend session at the Institute and then came to join us at Mt St Bernard to meet his compatriot Br. Laurence, recently Ordained Deacon, who also did the Maryvale Course of Theology.

So I also had the blessing of a relaxed four days the Abbey.
A Break - Luxury of Lectio
In the extensive Library I found the Lectio Divina just right for the occasion. Following on the recently published, “Mother Teresa – Come Be My Light”, the
seven-page review in Time Magazine and the article of Fr. Cantalamessa of the Papal Household, entitled, “The Atheism of Mother Teresa”, I had time for a follow up and dipped into Urs vonBalthaser on the inner darkness of the saints and the mystery of the Cross. Mother Teresa did not have vonBalthaser’s mastery of the words to express the “dark night” and the cry of her heart, “Come be my light”. Writing of that burning point of the place where God and humans meet and cross he speaks of the experience of the soul, “It is always the point of being in fundamental agreement with the embodiment of all God's will and therefore a place of death (of the death of Jesus naturally: 2 Cor 4:10), whether this death
is now expressed as "dark night" (John of the Cross),
as "dying to be able not to die" (Teres a of Avila) ,
as readiness to let oneself be shared in any way (the Little Flower),
as love without reason (Eckhart), or in various other ways.
Certainly an elementary love of neighbour will always grow from this attitude, but
the important thing is that it does not set the standards for itself, that the fruitfulness of the life given to God for the world and for humanity is, in the end, controlled by God alone”. (The vonBalthaser Reader, p. 165).

Heraldry at Mt. St. Bernard

Someone with an interest in heraldry asked me for Cistercian Heraldic Coats of Arms. To photograph the various shields at the abbey is to discover the history of Mt. St. Bernard.

In the central boss of the Church are the three heraldic shields marking the dedication. For me it would have been difficult to get a good picture. Fortunately Br. Martin had a brilliant picture of the boss of the three heraldic shields which is at the meeting point of the arches above the hanging tabernacle, above high altar; quite a unique feature. This seems to be the only decoration inside the simple pure Cistercian lines of the Church, i.e., apart from the lovely Rose Window of Mary in the Lady Transept. The Missa de Beata, Mass of Our Lady, is celebrated every day in the Lady Transept in the uninterrupted tradition of the Brothers.

I joke with our Church of Scotland friends that Cistercian architecture follows the Presbyterian style in stark austerity. In the typical C of S Church of the Canongate in Edinburgh there are no stained glass windows. The only exception was a Crucifixion scene by Scottish artist Douglas Strachan which was donated it to Nunraw by Rev Selby-Wright who had it in the Canongate Manse.

The Boss above the altar contains the three Coats of Arms, that of Pius XI, the reigning Pope at the completion of the Church, the Shield of Citeaux, and that of Mt. St. Bernard/Abbot Malachy.

In the shop I discovered the stained glass window of the Mt. St. Bernard Abbey Coat of Arms and Motto, Fides et Constans, and over the entrance, the window with the Coat of Arms of Abbot Malachy Brasil. After retiring in 1959 Dom Malachy came to Nunraw and is buried in the cemetery of the present Guesthouse, (see his Obituary at Nunraw website).

The shop at MSB is very busy, except on Sundays when it is closed. There is a large book selection, including the complete stock of Cistercian Publications. I missed the opportunity to check for newer volumes for Nunraw. Fr. Mark explained that there are plans for an extension of the shop space by utilizing the present structure to form a split-level upper floor, suggesting the mezzanine coffee bar popular in some bookshops. Br. Gabriel is one of the oldest monks and still serves at the shop till.

Browsing the shelves, I asked for a favourite holy card from the MSB printed cards. There was consternation. Everyone was sure it was available but where to find it was the question. Fr. Bede, now Abbot in Calvaire, Canada, did the printing for a number of years. Now it was Br. Thomas who knew where to put his hand on the text of Cardinal Newman and kindly gave me a fistful of them,

God has created me to do him some definite service; He has committed some work to me

which He has not committed to another. I have my mission - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.

A number of heraldic Coats of Arms are on display in Guesthouse refectory. All are related to the main Cistercian lineage. In the mantle piece of the front lounge there is another series of the shields of the main patrons of the abbey. In the centre of the Chapter House, doubling as Library, there is a small heraldic shield of Abbot Bartholomew. The octagonal Chapter House was erected in his time. He was one of four brothers in the community and was Abbot 1862-90. During his time the noted heraldic artist, Br. Anselm Baker was well known. It would have been interesting to see some of his work in the archives. Unfortunately the archivist was unwell during our visit. Most directly in view, however, are the 20 Coats of Arms on the lead rain water-heads along the outside eves of the Church. These 20 Cistercian Abbeys of England include some of the most important foundations of the Order in medieval England.

Autumn in Charnwood Forest

On a beautiful autumn day the view of the Abbey from the orchard and vegetable garden spoke of peace and timelessness. The trees were laden with large rosy apples. On the ground nearby were the remaining rows of large onions.

Access to the farm was obstructed by newly laid areas of concrete. Once inside, evidence of intensive dairying and all that goes with it filled every nook and cranny. Some of the younger monks are fully occupied on the farm. Plentiful calves and filled straw barns and silage clamps are ready for the winter.

Fr. Nivard was contemporary with a number of the senior monks. In his time he learned the art of pottery making. Together we met up with Fr. Luke in the book bindery. Fr. Luke, now in his 80s, was the founding Superior of Bamenda before coming back to the Mother House. The oldest monk is a Scot, Fr. Peter. He also served some years in Bamenda and trained five of the young Cameroonians for the priesthood.

Monos Workshop - making coracles

My visit to Mt. St. Bernard Abbey happened to coincide with the interesting Workshop on Coracle Making. This is a project of “Monos; A Centre for the study of monastic culture and spirituality”.

On the grassy court between the west door of the Church and the Guesthouse a canopy, opening to the windows of the reception lounge, had been erected. The participants constructing several coracles were busy at it when I met the co-ordinator, Anthony Grimley, whose Website, Monos, gives some idea of the inspiration of this lay organization that is concerned with the current engagement between monastic culture and spirituality and contemporary society.

A series of such Workshops has already taken place, (Desert Spirituality & Basket Making, Celtic Spirituality & Celtic Cross Making, Landscape of the Heart – Monastic Spirituality and the Human Condition), and will be followed by forthcoming Workshops on, e.g., Spirituality of Work, Icons of a New/Secular Monasticism. (For details Google MONOS).

WORKSHOP at MSB – September 28th-30th 2007. Coracle Making - Pilgrimage, as a Metaphor for Christian Living at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicester. Includes building your own full size Coracle. Cost: £190 (full board including coracle material).

A Coracle is a form of ancient boat that has been used by a variety of cultures over centuries for fishing and transportation. During the early medieval period Irish monks used a form of coracle, or its Irish equivalent curragh, to travel on the ocean in search of a ‘desert place' or ‘hermitage' in which to commune with God. Some of the monks found their way onto the continent and established monastic houses of prayer, focusing their attention on God whilst serving the local population.

‘Dear God be good to me the sea is so wide and my boat so small'. (Breton fisherman prayer).

1 comment:

claive said...

Thank you for the information and for the images.
It is, I think, that your down-to-earth, feet-flat-on the-ground approach to these things gives hope.