Quarr Abbey’s cavernous church is the ideal place to seek spiritual solace, as once through the heavy double doors you are enveloped by the imposing scent of incense and the Gregorian style singing of the monks lulls you into peaceful contemplation.
Built from a staggering number of Flemish bricks – some say six million – the ‘new’ abbey was completed in 1912, so will shortly to be celebrating its centenary. The red and blush coloured edifice was designed by Dom Paul Bellot, a monk who had been an architect in his previous life.
“The colour of the bricks within the church gradually becomes warmer as you move towards the sanctuary around the altar. The mind and the heart are drawn towards the sanctuary,” explained Father Luke who leads tours from the bookshop on the first Tuesday of the month and on every Tuesday during July and August at 11am (the next one is on June 7).
Apparently the amazing brickwork buttresses that support the ceiling of the church were so distrusted by the team of 300 Island builders that the architect had to remove the scaffolding himself as they refused to do so.
The Abbey became the new home for the Solesmes order of Benedictine monks who were finding things difficult in France in the late 19th century. A statue of St Benedict stands at the point at which guided tours of the Abbey begins.
“St Benedict was born in about 480AD and he left the city of Rome to live in a cave,” explained Father Luke. “He spent a couple of years there searching for God until a local priest got him out of the cave on Easter day and said “you can’t fast today.” After this he was asked to be an abbot.
“Unfortunately he was too rigorous for some of the monks and they tried to poison him with bread soaked in poison, but ravens took the bread from his hands. It is for this reason that ravens are revered by the Benedictine order.
“We have ravens here and they steal the food from the pigs,” explained Father Luke. “In the early morning they take the food from the troughs and fly high up on to the cross above the bell tower so that the pigs can’t reach them.”
They certainly would have to be flying pigs to reach this highest point, but it is these pigs that have become something of a highpoint for visitors in recent years at Quarr – particularly at this time of the year when there are dozens of pretty little piglets. Some black and some white with black spots, the cute piglets doze in the sunshine, snuffle milk from their mothers or will eat from visitors’ hands.
The newly refurbished café in the gardens sells special ‘pig cake’ made from all the things pigs like, that you can buy to feed them. It also sells a variety of snacks, lunches, cafetieres of coffee and pots of tea, and a selection of home made cakes and scones, which you can eat inside, on the patio outside or in one of the arbours around the pretty garden.
The older stone built building to the side of the abbey houses the well-stocked bookshop and a spacious room that is rented out to local artists for exhibitions. This building is part of Quarr Abbey House that was here long before the current abbey and was visited by Queen Victoria – in fact her daughter Beatrice spent her honeymoon here.
Walking down past the front of the Abbey to the church and you feel like an intruder in this peaceful and secret world – you can even walk down the side of the church to see the monk’s private cemetery in its oak tree encircled enclosure.
Visitors are also able to enter the hidden away Pilgrim’s Chapel, through a door at the rear of the building, which is open between 10am and around 4.30pm daily. Enter with care as this chapel in the crypt below the sanctuary is in semi darkness, and stand awhile after the door has closed to adjust your eyesight.
Here you can light a candle and say a prayer beneath Our Lady, to whom the abbey is dedicated, or beneath an icon of St Benedict. The Solesmes monks first made their home at Appuldurcombe House when they arrived on the Island in 1901 and here you can see the old wooden altar from the church they built there.
You may also like to walk down the unmade road to the ruins of the original abbey that was destroyed in the reformation at Henry VIII’s decree. Pieces of the walls poke out from the pastureland, and the old refectory is now a barn attached to a farmhouse built in the 1700s.
The newly refurbished guest wing of the Abbey is available to those wishing to make a spiritual retreat. Guests take their meals with the monks in the refectory and can attend all services. For more details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Guides to the abbey are available in the bookshop along with ‘A Deep and Subtle Joy, Life at Quarr Abbey’ written by Father Luke about his eight years at Quarr. Private visits to the abbey can be arranged through email@example.com