St. Augstine's Abbey
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St Augustine’s Abbey is situated on the Blackheath/Chilworth village border at the top of Sample Oak Lane, nestling happily amongst the oak and pine trees and the beautiful rolling hills of Surrey. Technically it is described as being in Chilworth but it has always played a role in Blackheath village life.
The Abbey, formerly known as the Greyfriars Franciscan Friary, is now home to a community of Roman Catholic Benedictine monks who moved here in 2011 from Ramsgate in Kent. It is one of only four Benedictine monasteries of the Order of Saint Benedictine in Great Britain.
Prior to 2011, the Franciscan Order had occupied the site since 1892 when they moved into the newly built Friary. In 1887, the Franciscan Order had left England due to a period of persecution and had established themselves in Flanders. They resolved that year to restart the Order in England and in 1891 the Province in England officially began.
A site was needed for the Novitiate to get things started and a benefactor appeared in the form of the Reverend Arthur Wells who undertook to pay for the cost. On 2nd April 1889, George Henry Drew of No. 1, Portland Place, London, sold them for £960 most of the present site, less a small strip alongside the main road, which was subsequently purchased for another £15 from Samuel Barrow and Lord Grantley (the Lord of the Manor) in May 1889.
In designing the new buildings, a study was made of the remains of the original church of the Order in Reading, and tenders were invited from seven local builders. The first requirement on the site was for water and in 1890 Messrs Duke and Ockenden from Littlehampton installed a wind driven Artesian Well drawing water from a clear source 110 ft below the present Friary. So bountiful was this source that for a time it supplied much of the village with water in times of drought.
On 6th October 1890, the foundation stone was laid, and work began. The Rev Wells underwrote the cost and on 23 June 1892 the Friary was complete and was opened.
Monsignor Wells, as he had by then become, funded the building by defraying £7000 from the estate of his aunt Mary Anne Alliott. She had in fact arranged this payment just before her death on 18th January 1892 in Torquay, Devon. Mgr Wells paid £6500 of his own money to fit out the Friary and in 1894 he spent a further £450 on the construction of the extension to it.
On 12th November 1892, the Home Office authorised the Friars to open their cemetery for the Order and on 29th December 1893 they were registered to solemnise marriages under the title of "Greyfriars Church, Chilworth".
The location is tranquil and fitting. In the centre of the cloister there is a large yew tree which was planted from a cutting taken from the Ancient Yew at the Friary at Muckross Abbey in Killarney, Ireland which is reputed to date from the foundation of that Abbey in 1430AD.
It was in the garden of the Friary that Albert Ketelbey wrote "In a Monastery Garden" in the early 1900s whilst he was visiting one of the Fathers there.
Over the years The Benedictine and Franciscan community have enjoyed a warm relationship within the village. A fete was held annually by the Franciscan Order with the popular “dog show’ attracting many an excited village child with their pets, and there was always a queue at the famous cake stall manned by Sisters from the Convent in Godalming. Today the Benedictines continue the tradition and can be found with a wonderful stall selling their popular bee’s wax products at the annual village Spring fayre.
Living a life of prayer and contemplation, the down to earth and very approachable monks are very industrious, making and selling skin cream and lip balm as well as furniture polish, all made from the wax from the Abbey’s bee hives.
The Abbey welcomes visitors of faith and none. Members of the public are welcomed to Mass and Divine Office in the Abbey Church which take place daily 365 days a year, along with regular retreats, meditation and study groups, healing days and other events.
Listening to the monks pray and sing in English and Latin, often in Gregorian Chant, amidst the peaceful setting of the Abbey Church is a highlight for many. There is a guest house for Abbey visitors and those exploring their spirituality or vocation.
The monks actively encourage questions and visits from anyone considering life as a Benedictine monk (please email email@example.com).
For more information about all aspects of St Augustine's Abbey you can search online for Chilworth Benedictines - or call 01483 899360.