Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Modernized Brede

Did anyone else happen to catch this post by the Anchoress last year? She links to an article and video from The Guardian about the Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey, the model for Brede Abbey, (Godden spent several years living in the guest house of Stanbrook, researching the history of the community and speaking with the nuns). The article is about the community moving to a new location, a move necessitated by the decline in numbers-- now just 22 professed sisters and two novices.

The new facility is, well, ugly. As the Anchoress says:
Benedictines are always practical, and certainly, the nuns needed to be freed up from the arduous upkeep of a monastery meant to house many more than 22 sisters (and it is an unqualified good that the handicapped have full access to the house) but part of being practical, to my way of thinking, is realizing that we human beings have hearts that crave beauty. Particularly for enclosed monastics, who spend all of their lives within the confines of their house and chapel and the grounds, the new place seems drearily stark and unjoyful, to me.
It's an interesting question that addresses one of the main themes of Brede. Certainly we know where Abbess Hester would stand on the question of beauty. And yet the current Abbess says that the building has hindered their spiritual life. Of course, that does have to be their primary concern. Obviously the new buildings were planned for utility rather than beauty; though I'm not sure that isn't a false dichotomy. Why can't utility still be beautiful? I can imagine the discussion that lead up to the nuns moving away from their beautiful historic Abbey. I wonder whether anyone fought to have a more aesthetically pleasing design for the new place.

In the video clip you can catch a few peeks at the original abbey. More pictures here. I find it helpful in picturing what Brede is supposed to look like.


BettyDuffy said...

I think the argument for beautiful architecture is similar to the one that one of the nuns made for the liturgy, in that Mother Church knew we would require feast days and variations in the litugy for our entertainment.

Emily J. said...

New architecture for another community here: Our cousin lives here, so I'm always picturing her life, even though she's not cloistered, while reading.

I guess it's understandable that the sisters are moving because their old home is too much work for them, but I wonder if their new home will live up to its promised efficiency, and if it will serve them as long and as well as their old home.

Just love the description of Dame Catherine after her election.

Emily J. said...

We spent a few days of our honeymoon at this convent:
It doesn't have breathtaking architecture, but the chapel fit its beautiful place on a little island the sisters shared with some Franciscans.