September 2014

A Letter from your Lay Reader

Dear Friends,

Although you will read this letter in September, it was written in August, so at that time I was still in “holiday mode”. In my August letter I told you about our trip to the “Three Choirs Festival” in the first week of our holiday, but at that stage we had not decided what we would do for our second week.

On the spur of the moment, we decided that a few days on the Isle of Wight would do us good, so Rachel phoned a hotel in Shanklin, where we had stayed several times before, and which had been recommended to us by Rosemary and Mervyn Coombs six or seven years ago. I thought it was unlikely that they would be able to fit us in, but as luck would have it, they had just one double room left for three nights.

I have to say that the Isle of Wight is one of my favourite places, and I always enjoy staying there very much. Although so close to Southampton, that one hour ferry trip from Southampton to East Cowes really makes it feel as if you are going abroad.

One of my favourite places on the Island is Quarr Abbey, a beautiful and peaceful place, which is the home of a small Benedictine community. Quarr Abbey is just off the road from Newport to Ryde, about fifteen minutes’ drive to the Ferry Terminal at East Cowes. It is therefore a good stopping off place on the way back home. It has a lovely tea room and garden, and having booked to return on the 1.30 p.m. ferry it was just the place to stop for an early lunch, and a quiet time to relax after our short holiday on the island.

The present buildings at Quarr Abbey are comparatively modern, compared with the old abbey ruins which date back to the 12th century. Founded as a Cistercian monastery, the old abbey was once the largest religious house on the Isle of Wight, but was destroyed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. The old abbey ruins are worth a visit if time permits but are nearly a mile to the East heading towards Ryde. The present abbey buildings were formerly known as Quarr Abbey House and were often visited by Queen Victoria when staying at Osborne House. Quarr Abbey House became the home of a small community of French Benedictine monks in 1907. They had previously lived at Appledurcombe House near Ventnor for six or seven years, but had to look for a new home when their lease came to an end. Quarr provided a wonderful alternative home, a large house, surrounded by lovely farmland. Benedictine monks are traditionally workers of the land and are largely self sufficient where circumstances permit.

The present Abbey Church was built by a local builder between 1911 and 1912. It is a remarkable red brick building in a surprisingly modern, probably French, style. The guest house was built in 1914 and was, for a while used as a convalescent home for First World War soldiers. Robert Graves stayed there for a while, and Quarr is mentioned in his book, “Goodbye to all that”

A small, but active Benedictine community still lives at Quarr Abbey. The monks are engaged in agricultural activities, including keeping pigs and bees. They also look after the lovely gardens and grounds, and brew their own beer which can be bought from the tea rooms. The usual Monastic offices are said throughout the day, and all services are open to visitors. Unfortunately the service times do not respect the ferry sailings, so if you are booked on the 6.00 p.m. ferry you will be cutting it fine if you want to attend Vespers!!

Quarr Abbey is truly a Holy place, and one of those places where one can really feel the presence of God. It is well worth a visit if you happen to be on the Island, but if you are looking for a quiet place to stay, or a place for a retreat, the guest house is open to visitors all the year round. Accommodation includes some rooms with en-suite facilities and one with facilities for the disabled.

The Benedictine way of life is based on the idea of finding Christ in everything that the monks do in their daily lives be it digging the garden, mucking out the pigs, preparing meals, singing the daily offices, or welcoming and looking after visitors. The Community is also bound by the “Benedictine Rule”, a series of some seventy six rules written down by St. Benedict at the Abbey of Monte Casino around 520 A.D. These rules were intended to regulate monastic life, and are still observed today in Benedictine monasteries around the world.

Perhaps, if I am stuck for an idea for next month’s Parish News, I might write something on the “Rule of St. Benedict”!!

with every blessing

Malcolm Harper