A Patron Saint

Before there was St George, there was St Edmund, King, Virgin and Martyr, whose feast falls today. St George was a soldier saint from the region we now call Syria (what little of it remains intact notwithstanding). He was a decent chap and a worthy saint, but he did not become England’s patron saint until the fourteenth century. He was brought back by crusaders and had been favoured under the Norman occupation because he was neither Anglo-Saxon—and thus a potential emblem for resistance among the subjugated English—nor a Norman—and thus likely to be rejected out of hand buy the English. Before him St Edward the Confessor (on whose feast my birthday happily falls) had been widely considered the national patron of England, though even he was not original. The first saint we call the patron of England was St Edmund, the patron of my monastery, and the raison d’être of the great abbey and town of Bury St Edmunds. Continue reading “A Patron Saint”

A changing church – part 2

Thesis writing and the various thrills and spills of the vita monastica have caused me to neglect the blog. Maybe that is a good thing. A series of events, not with an ominous air when seen together, have challenged any sanguine approach I might have had towards the current state of play in the Church and the world. The dismal presidential election in the USA, the hideous new presidency in the Philippines, the aggressive posturing of Putin, the demonic embodiment that is IS/Daesh, exhortations to “celebrate” the tragedy of the Reformation, the recent radical reformation of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and a series of earthquakes in Italy that have destroyed the basilica in St Benedict’s home town, Norcia – all these militate against optimism. Continue reading “A changing church – part 2”

Not dead yet

It is has not been a year of abundant blogging, and certainly not recently. Easter at Douai is a busy time if one is simultaneously sacristan, cantor and shepherd: lots of liturgical services to set up for, sometimes single-handedly; lots to sing at those same services, and to practise for naturally; and it is lambing season.

The last lamb popped out during vespers on Friday, the reluctant mother Hildegard finally conceding to Mother Nature. She gave birth to this year’s only single lamb, Ambrose (Samson, though now a single, had a sister at birth who sadly only lasted a day). Our much reduced flock of six ewes has had ten lambs, which is a more easily manageable number. Of those ten, eight are rams and only two ewes. Their father, Spitfire, has not interrupted the ewes’ tendency to produce rams. Is this a subtle accommodation to the cloister in the domain of which they live?

Continue reading “Not dead yet”

A changing church – part 1

Over at the New Liturgical Movement one can find a rich resource for charting the changes that liturgical reform has brought to church architecture and liturgical vestments. Very few churches go through life without being modified in some way to meet new circumstances, or as a result of war or disaster. Some changes are good; some are woeful. Even Douai Abbey‘s relatively young and humble abbey church has seen a good deal of change, nearly all of it before my arrival here. Nevertheless our photo archive affords a glimpse into the changes that have been made to our church in its near 80 years of existence. It fascinated me, and perhaps some others will find the photos of interest. They will enlarge on being clicked.

Construction circa 1929, seen from the top floor of the then monastery block, the Ark, later to become a dormitory for the school. The church was designed by Arnold Crush (1885-1936), a convert from Birmingham, and a pupil of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.
The west end of the abbey church under construction, with what was originally intended as the chapter house on the right. In the event it was for a time the novitiate, and now houses the sacristy, some offices and some guest rooms.
The abbey church in the year of its opening, 1933. The original plan was not completed due to lack of funds. It was to be a very large church in red-brick Decorated Gothic.  What was built here was meant to be the lady chapel and chancel. A temporary west end was built, which became semi-permanent, remaining 60 years. This represents only one-third of Crush’s design, as much as was ever built.
The abbey church and its ‘temporary’ west end, seen through the monastery gates. The Ark, at this time the monastery, can be seen at far right.
The interior of the abbey church prior to some minor renovation in 1952. The choir stalls are still in use, the eagle-ambo long gone, and the cantors’ stools, relics from old Douai, now elsewhere in the monastery. The seating for the boys seems rather attractive to me; if only we still had those seats.
A postcard view of the abbey church prior to 1952. Its current Grade II* listing is in no small way due to the church being an early example of the innovation of structural stone-clad concrete.
A closer view of the pre-1952 altar, with its lovely sanctuary carpet. The postcard entitles it the Lady Altar, a nod to the fact that this area, though used as the choir and sanctuary, was intended as the Lady Chapel. Until 1978 this was the principal altar of the church.
In what is now the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was the St Benedict Chapel. The simple yet elegant altar remains to this day, with fine lettering by Christopher Derrick. The squat candlesticks we still use today on the main altar.
Between the St Benedict Chapel and the entrance to the choir was the altar of St Joseph. Now long gone, victim to the reforming zeal for one altar only in a church, the area today is behind the new Tickell organ and is a chair store. The triptych is now rather awkwardly placed in the sacristy for the house chapel.
A poor quality photo showing the church arrayed for a Requiem offered on the death of Pope Pius XI in 1939. Note the unbleached candles and the papal tiara (made of cardboard I believe!).
In time the church was equipped with the first of its organs. Here is a shot with a young Fr Romuald (+2012 – RIP) tickling the keys.

Part 2 to come in due course. Pax!

Holy leaping lambs, Batman.

Time for a less serious post. Photos of the lambs are piling up, over a week’s worth, and drowning will soon ensue. Every now and then I was able to get a shot of the lambs at play, in particular when they leapt. The leaping of lambs is one of those sights that brings a smile to the stoniest face. The photos, taken at a distance with a point-and-shoot camera, do not really capture their sheer exuberance and joie de vivre. Nevertheless, it makes for the occasional cute photograph.

So in chronological order some leaping lambs from the past week. As always the photos get bigger if you click them, but they are of varying quality.


Changing pace for a moment, a few pictures from the sheepfold, in particular our 8 lambs. After the daily feeding for the adults (in which the lambs are now taking an increasingly vigorous part), the adults tend to wander off, and the lambs take their afternoon nap, mostly in the shelter. As the sun fought its way through a day-long mist, bestowing a pleasing warmth, it was a rather soothing scene. As usual, clicking a photo will take you to its larger version.

**WARNING** – the following photos are not for the hard-hearted, as they contain explicit schmaltz and gratuitous cuteness.


The creche, after lunch.
Thelma and Nonnie.
Patch, dead to the world.
Nonnie (the rejected lamb, though after some serious persuasion, now tolerated), dreaming of the day when her mother comes to love her.
Bianca, sunbathing like a pro.
Patch slumbers on.
Nonnie awakes, ever so briefly.

Woe in the sheepfold?

The title is literal not metaphorical. Two more lambs were born today, twin girls to a first time mother. One, an all-white lass obviously to be named Bianca, has been accepted by mother. Disturbingly, mother is not so keen on the other, letting it feed but then ramming it quite hard to keep it away from her. Shortly, if I can get some help, we will try to cover the little one in some of mother’s smell. But I have that sinking feeling…

For the time being we have 8 lambs, and I would put money on one more ewe being pregnant so we may get up to 10! Anyway, meet Bianca and Non Nominata.

Bianca and Non Nominata

The fecund fields of Douai

Plans for another blog entry have had to take a back seat after the birth on the same day of 4 lambs, twin boys and twin girls. Having expected none this year after our old ram’s summer death, the 6 lambs we now have are quite the surprise. There may be another ewe or two pregnant. Obviously our little boys, all only just turned 1 year old, have been able to fill their father’s hooves.

Twin sisters, Thelma (front) and Louise. They are already springing.
Twin brothers, Patch (left) and Flash, a little pooped after a frolic in a passing rain shower.
Eva and Zsa Zsa, now close to a month old, are excited about all the new friends they have. Here they manage to avoid a protective mother to acquaint themselves with Flash yesterday, not long after his birth.
Yesterday Patch gave reason to think he is going to cut quite a dash; he poses like a pro only hours after birth.

So, now that the tail rings are on, I can think about that blog post.

Ash Wednesday

The ash and the Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

(Matthew 16:24-25 ESV)


Strip me of all
but the mark,

thumb crossing
on forehead,

that I might
let mingle

my spiraling soot
with His blessing

ashed. The burned
arm of palm

once so green
now tendered

of want

joins as one
the wind-tunneled trail

from which I came
and the long road

down which I travel
invoking darkness

seeking light:
I'm listening.

(A Prayer for Ash Wednesday, by Maureen Doallas)