Saturday, 21 September 2013

Silence is... Overwhelming

A lovely door - the entrance to the complex
Taking into account the four geographical areas within Yorkshire (east, north, south and west), it's a huge county and there is always somewhere new to visit. I took the opportunity of accompanying my friend Linda recently to Ampleforth Abbey in high rural North Yorkshire, the first visit by either of us. The Abbey belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.
Ampleforth Abbey, this latest version of the church was consecrated in 1961

This beautiful location encompasses both a Benedictine Monastery and a college. In 1802, the original house that stood on the site was given by the Honourable Anne Fairfax from which the Monastery was founded and which subsequently became an Abbey in 1890. Over the years it has developed and grown and had three churches upon the site.

The high altar

The church that remains today is a magnificent edifice, not overly huge, but warm, plain and inviting. Its is a working church, used several times a day, 365 days a year. We managed to sit in silence in the Lady Chapel next to the nave, lit  candle of respect and spent 20 minutes in meditation there. What was amazing, truly amazing was the silence. I have heard quiet before, many times, but the silence was in fact overwhelming. Not a peep - no background noise - nothing. Bearing in mind this is in rural North Yorkshire, there are no main roads nearby and the college is not currently attended by students. A lady was preparing flower presentations at the other end of the church at the high altar for a wedding taking place shortly and apart for the occasional distant 'snip' of her secateurs, I couldn't hear anything. I'm not sure I could have stood it for too much longer, but I think I could get used to it!

A 14th century German carving of the Virgin and Child watches over the small Lady Chapel.

We lit a candle out of respect
We had a pleasant tea and a bun in the tea shop and a wander round the very pleasant gift shop which had, amongst other publications a couple of Dan Brown books!

The view out across the manicured grounds
The grounds were extensive and beautifully maintained and on good days I bet it is gorgeous to wander round. The college has six hundred students including boarders and the establishment of monks is currently around 70 although many are working in the community.

The visitors centre was very interesting and the lady guide was very informative, committed and helpful and a mine of information. This dispelled many myths about the life of a monk and the purpose of their work and what they achieve.  I scored 7 out of 10 in a quiz about life as a monk - Linda scored 8 - she'd make a better monk than I.

The history displayed wasn't just about the Abbey, but how the monks arrived and the persecution suffered by the Catholic faith over the centuries. This was presented factually and in a none judgemental way. We were given a free visitors pack full of information.

If I have a criticism at all and it's nothing to do with the Abbey or the college or the people there, it's more about the faith, I found the religious iconography a bit too graphic. Everywhere were carvings of Christ nailed to the cross - I understand its significance, perhaps I just question the need to have it displayed so widely and in such graphic detail. This is not meant to offensive at all, simply an observation.

The Abbey is free to visitors and donations are welcome, the disabled are well catered for, there are plenty of facilities and weekend retreats are available (and not just for men.) The roads are a bit rural and narrow at times and with several road closures in the area, even the sat nav struggled to get us there and back through the rural environment. But that aside, a great day out.

Chat soon



  1. I think, the reason for the iconography in the Catholic and Anglican churches is because the litany was in Latin, and most people were illiterate anyway.

    So illustration was a demonstration of the power of God as the clergy perceived it.

    As you know, as various kings ascended, the christian religions and factions, merged and submerged, but churches, with their bare walls and pillars - well, those that survived, lost their bright paint but still managed to retain their representations of the scripture as they perceive it.

    I'd include Methodists and my mates in the New Creation Christian Church in that, tho' they seem opposite in iconography.

    In short, those beautiful pillars were once awash with colour and the churches with activity.

    I know, you know, just saying. But oh, such beauty either way :-)

  2. I love silence! That's why I stay up late at night. As for the crucifixes, the non-conformist churches usually display the empty cross. As I was taught it is because Christ is no longer on the cross, having been raised from the dead and therefore an acceptable sacrifice for our sins.

  3. Hi Wheelie
    Thank you so much for the information, it makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing that.

    Hi ChrisJ
    I always find late at night when everyone else has gone to bed rather relaxing and sacred to be honest. Just a single candle and no lights or sound. Lovely. Interesting take on the empty cross, thanks for sharing this.