I remember visiting Buckfast Abbey as a child. The stone looked clean and smooth. It isn’t a ruin. It’s very much alive and occupied.
The original abbey was built in the reign of King Cnut in 1018 in Saxon times. A Benedictine monastery that continued for a few decades but by 1086 when the Doomesday Book was written, the abbey was in decline. In 1136 King Stephen gave it to Abbot Savigny and Buckfast became part of the Benedictine Congregation of Savigny, which in turn by 1147 conformed to the Cistercian Order by orders of the pope.
(The Abbey of Citeaux in the 12th Century wanted to return the Rule of St Benedict to a more austere form – including the rule of silence. More on Religious Orders in later posts.)
By 15th Century the abbey was at its peak with marble columns, tiled floors and a Lady Chapel. It made lots of money through wool production, which was exported as far as Italy. However, the impact of the Black Death on the population reduced the number of buildings in use.
On 12th February 1539 the King’s commissioners arrived to dissolve the monastery. Imagine these monks and their abbot waiting for the arrival of these commissioners knowing that across the country monasteries and convents had been closed and their clergy dispersed. Their future was gone, their way of life ended. Do they surrender or resist? They surrendered and were pensioned off. The commissioners had the abbey stripped of its wealth and sent 1.5 tonnes of precious metal to London.
Was that the end of Buckfast? It fell into disrepair and ruin, like many abbeys. However, in 1882 a group of Benedictine monks, who were fleeing France, arrived in Buckfast to start a new life. They bought the land off the owner who was keen to see the ruins reconstructed and a new monastery built.
From 1907 to 1938, the monks rebuilt the abbey church and a self-sufficient way of life was re-established. This life continues today. They make their own tonic wine and keep bees. Visitors can use the conference centre, members of the public view the grounds and church. Behind a wall, in the garden, the monks practise their quiet life.
I very much enjoyed my visit to Buckfast, now several years ago, and in particular the stained glass is amazing. Thank you for the evocation!
Good luck with the rest of April!
A Back of the Envelope Calculation
Stained glass is such an important part of churches – I’ll be doing more on it later.
Thanks for stopping by.
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There is nothing like monk made wine and spirits 🙂 Every time I have been to a monastary and thought to myself, “should I buy the big bottle” I have regretted not doing so! It looks like it has been beautifully rebuild.
Tasha’s Thinkings – Shapeshifters and Werewolves
Given that water wasn’t safe to drink, making mead and wine was the only way to purify the water.These days it’s a way of making money and I’m sure they test it from time to time!
Another great bit of history. Nice to put some context to Buckfast and not just the tonic wine that comes from there.
I don’t remember the tonic wine, but I do remember lots of honey. Unfortunately many of the bees were wiped out by some disease a few years ago.
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Wow, great post – so up my street. I love how you opened this piece, the nostalgia, something that is key to my own research. Great period as far as I’m concerned. Followed your blog for more great stuff in the future!
I hope you enjoy the rest of the challenge. I’m trying to cover my favourites as much as possible.
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I knew about the tonic wine – it’s a bit of a scourge in Scotland unfortunately with young hoodlums drinking it on the street and leaving the empty bottles around – but great to read more of the history. Sounds like it had an impressive resurrection.
I visited Buckfast a few times in the 70s and 80s when I lived in the west country. I particularly remember their delicious mead!!
Jemima with the Book Bloggers’ Hop today
Wow! The scope of work that went in to making those huge old abbeys is amazing. I can’t even comprehend it!
See my “B” post here: https://lydiahowe.com/2017/04/03/b-is-for-backstory-atozchallenge/
It’s a good feeling to see how life will always win, in the end 😉
The Old Shelter – 1940s Film Noir
[…] What brought a more cohesive approach to monasticism were the precepts – an authoritative rule of action that early monks developed. The Rule of St Benedictine is a book of precepts written by Benedictine of Nursia in the 5th Century – all seventy-three chapters. A complete guide on how to be a monk and every hour of the day is accounted for. Benedictines were known as the Black Monks due to the their garb. Until the 11th Century is was the only monastic order in Western Europe, although they split into congregations such as Savigny at Buckfast Abbey. […]