Over the years of turmoil and displacement they continued to practise their religious vows and develop their educational vocations. Today the school they founded at Douai closed in the late 1990s and has been sympathetically converted into apartment homes. The 25 monks who remain have an average age of something like 70 with the youngest being 45. They, like many other monasteries and convents, are finding difficulty in attracting new and younger brethren with a vocation for the religious life. If not being forced to close as the brothers and sisters of these places die, others are diversifying into offering retreats and courses designed to respond to the needs of the 21C.
I for one am thankful that there are still places like Douai, where all are welcomed and offered the opportunity to spend time in such a beautiful place and share in the rhythm of the monastic day. The Abbey Church is open daily for visiting, apart from times when it is used for concerts and recordings etc.
On one occasion when I was on a residential course at Douai, the famous choir The Sixteen was rehearsing for a broadcast. Lying on my bed with the windows open listening to the singing was very special. We all felt that we had been uplifted by the experience of wonderful music, the blazing autumn colours of the surrounding trees and the rhythm of prayer and praise being sustained by the monks.
Retreats are not a holiday as such. Often they can be tough as they reveal to us things we have buried because we haven't been able to deal with them. It's a time to be honest and face up to what we prefer to run away from.
However we approach any retreat, it will always be a time of challenge. There is, importantly though, time for healing and a renewal of commitment which inspires us to move forward with increased energy and purpose.
Just a day away in a holy place can make the difference. Try it and see.
Every blessing for the Lenten journey.
A retreat is special says Rev Dilys
Retreat 'holidays 'have become a very popular choice for many people because the need for sometime away from the pressure of everyday living is widely recognised in today's world. Until fairly recently retreats were regarded as something religious people went on and, in particular, clergy took retreats to enable them to withdraw from parish duties and commune with God. It was a time of spiritual refreshment gained essentially from silence, meditation and prayer.
Monastic (or convent life) is one that centres on obedience to the daily offices. By sub-dividing each day into time slots between the offices, a daily rhythm is achieved.
With all the pressures of modern living the pattern of a regular, paced rhythm to each day is attractive, even if only for a short time. Space is created for listening to our inner thoughts and feelings without the clamour of all that usually demands our attention.
'Retreats' don't necessarily mean being shut away in silence. There are retreats that include other beneficial activities such as painting, pottery or exercise in some form or another. The choices available are very varied and not all include a religious element.
Lent is a time when we tend to think about some time out to recharge our batteries and take stock of where our life journey is taking us. The opportunity for reflection is one that I can commend to you. I had the chance to join a small group from another church community for a day at Douai Abbey.
The Abbey as many of you know is set fairly high up on the ridge of the Berkshire Downs with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. It's a huge building, part gothic and wonderfully finished at its west end with a vast lantern of yellow and gold stained glass and modern architectural features. Tine cream marble flooring adds to the feeling of soaring height. I just love the building because of its light and sense of space.
Douai Abbey belongs to the monastic order of Benedictines (Catholic) with a history of displacement from England at the Reformation and again from France where they sought sanctuary, eventually returning to England after the French Revolution.