Charnwood - Faith In The Forest
w/e 31 August 2008
All this week's pictures were taken
with a Kodak DX6490
A cloud-filled sky was just one of the reasons why
we abandoned a planned day out in the Peak District to the north
of Ilkeston and instead took an afternoon jaunt twenty or so
miles down the motorway in the opposite direction to the Charnwood
Forest area of North West Leicestershire.
We went in search of in search of three religious houses, "search"
being the operative word in the case of this first one, Ulverscroft
Priory. Despite driving back and forth along Priory Lane it was
not until we stopped at a nearby farmhouse to ask directions
that we actually located it. Even then it involved a walk of
about half a mile along the amusingly marked "feetpath"
before it became visible, surrounded as it is by trees.
This is hardly surprising as Charnwood Forest was once a densely
wooded area although it has suffered centuries of felling. The
Priory at Ulverscroft is one of many in the area that were built
in secluded clearings in the forest but like many others fell
victim to Henry VIII's Dissolution of Monasteries in 1539. Some
of the buildings date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
but the plastic sheeting that now covers part of the site is
of a much later vintage. The Priory is now a Grade I listed Scheduled
Ancient Monument but stands on private property and not open
to the general public.
Our second visit of the afternoon was just a few miles from Ulverscroft
and even though the sat-nav took us the long way round, we were
soon pulling up on the car park at Mount St Bernard Abbey. Henry
VIII was no bother at all here as the Abbey was not established
until 1835 being the first Roman Catholic Abbey to be founded
in England since the 1530s.
The monastery is occupied by an community of Cistercian Monks
whose life is lived in "a spirit of simplicity, silence
and solitude" and whose day is made up of "a careful
balance between prayer and work". Some of that work time
is surely spent tending the attractive flower beds and lawns
at the approach to the church.
Silent prayers for the monks begin at 3:30 am and continue at
various times during the day concluding with Compline at 7:30
pm before they retire at 8:00 pm. As we paused for a few minutes
in the church, we were party to that silence that the monks hold
so dearly as it "opens the mind to the inspiration of the
Holy Spirit". The peace and quiet in here was interrupted
only by the click of my camera!
But although prayer is first and foremost in the lives of the
monks, they also have work to do within the community each day.
With a gift and book shop to run (extreme left above) they are
also involved in the running of a two hundred acre dairy farm
with ninety cows (top right). I don't think there will be many
farm yards though where the buildings are so attractively decorated
with more of those colourful flowers (bottom right). Beekeeping,
bookbinding and the production of pottery are just a few of their
other projects along with the everyday tasks of cooking, cleaning
and laundry necessary to ensure the running of the monastery.
Leaving Mount St Bernard Abbey, we headed towards Ashby-de-la-Zouche
to pick up the A42 road which would lead us back home and in
doing so, we passed the Grace Dieu Priory near Thringstone and
seen here from the road. Access to the Priory is via the Grace
Dieu Trail and a footpath through the wood in the background.
The Priory, another victim of the Dissolution of Monasteries
in 1538, was founded between 1235 and 1241 as a religious house
for Augustinian canonesses but the site has historical connections
dating back to Roman times. The Priory has obviously stood in
ruins for many years but in 1996 a group of people got together
to save the ruins from further deterioration and two years later
the Grace Dieu Priory Trust was formed. Fund raising and conservation
work have enabled the ruins to be opened to the public.