Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 4, 2007
Benedictines gave life to stone ruins
New Church is built on the original Cisterian foundation
St. Benedict – July 11
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
St. Benedict of Nursia
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Buckfast Abbey, England
Between Plymouth and Exeter in Britain's fabled Devon, at the edge of Dartmoor National Park, Buckfast Abbey is a remarkable example of recycling of an abandoned site to make an attractive objective for tourists and pilgrims.
It's a Benedictine institution that, until resurrected in 1882, had lain dormant for more than 300 years. The namesake of the abbey, its order and its founder goes back some 1,450 years to the time of the first St. Benedict.
Also, a series of Peter's successors have chosen to identify themselves with the remarkable saint, up to and including Pope Benedict.
Buckfast Abbey is believed to have been founded about 1018 and by 1086, owned 10,000 acres. In 1136, the property changed hands and was rebuilt along the new owners - Cistercian lines.
King John confiscated some of the holdings in 1210, but growth and activity continued until the site suffered dissolution 329 years later by King Henry VIII. Stone from the buildings was used for other construction and the complex lay in ruins for three and a half centuries.
In 1882, new life was breathed into the Buckfast site with the arrival of Benedictine monks, dispossessed of their monastery in France.
The old Cistercian complex was unearthed, and by 1932, a new church, built on the original foundations, was consecrated. In 1982, a campaign to attract the public began to produce the site visited by thousands today.
What first impresses most arrivals at the complex are the well-manicured lawns, flower beds, and trees that frame the large central open space, with a spectacular backdrop of the towered Abbey Church, constantly being targeted by photographers of every age. The Lavender Garden is centred by a statue of Our Lady of Buckfast, patron of the monastery.
The church is a close replica and of the same size as the original Cistercian structure. It comprises a nave, choir and sanctuary, flanked by aisles and an ambulatory, and joined at the lantern tower by shallow-transepts.
One of several small chapels in the ambulatory is dedicated to the patriarch of monks, St. Benedict of Nursia, also considered to be the father of western monasticism.
He was born in Italy in about 480 and, rebelling at traditional schooling, first chose the life of a hermit. Later, he established the famous monastery on Monte Cassino and wrote his Rule for Monks, the beginning of the convention that was to be followed by hundreds of Benedictine monasteries later on.
A statue above the altar in his chapel shows the holy man seated, his "rule" in hand.
Modern stained glass
Visitors often try to attend the daily noon Mass and rosary in the 1968 Blessed Sacrament Chapel, a large apsidal addition designed to accommodate large numbers of summer visitors and noted for its ultra-modern stained glass windows.
Following Mass, there's often an opportunity to meet with the clergy when they are not in the monastic complex.
Other Mass times are available to the public, as are many monastic religious services - Matins, Lauds, Vespers or Compline.
Buckfast Abbey offers many other attractions to draw visitors - free parking and admission, a large gift shop, a good restaurant (provided too many tour buses don't arrive simultaneously), an impressive bookstore and, of course, the gardens and church for prayer and meditation.
The facility also includes a large meeting and conference centre, retreat house and education centre. Buckfast Abbey, in addition to its obvious spiritual environment, is a well-promoted tourist attraction with many excellent guidebooks for sale on the grounds.