Visitors are encouraged to turn off their phones and “experience these spiritual buildings as they were intended.”
It’s been 480 years since King Henry VIII dissolved the last of the monasteries, kicking out the monks and nuns from the country’s Catholic priories and convents, and pocketing their assets. Since that time, many of the great religious houses have crumbled into ruins, albeit very picturesque ones.
English Heritage, the non-profit entrusted with the maintenance of some 400 properties once held by the Catholic Church, along with various castles, forts and country houses, welcomes over 5 million visitors a year to its historic properties.
After a difficult last year and half thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, English Heritage has decided to offer up these historically religious properties to those in need a spiritual pick-me-up. Visitors to the charity’s former monasteries and abbeys are invited to spend an hour in quiet contemplation, just as the monks and religious would have done centuries ago.
Historic monasteries to return to their original purpose (for an hour a day)
From September 22 to October 22, for the last hour that the abbeys and priories are open, visitors are encouraged to turn off their phones and take part in an “hour of contemplation.”
Dr. Michael Carter, senior properties historian at English Heritage, explains that the trial program is meant to bring back the spiritual purpose of these buildings that once were home to priests, monks and religious.
”For those who lived there, these monastic buildings offered an opportunity to live the heavenly life here on earth, and discover a spiritual inner peace. Throughout the centuries, people have turned to the monasteries now in the care of English Heritage as havens of contemplation and places of spiritual and physical renewal,” said Carter.
“Escape from their cares”
The “hour of contemplation,” he says, was launched to help people suffering from the stress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying lockdown.
“With many people having experienced a very difficult past 18 months, we’re inviting visitors to escape from their cares for a short time, using the quiet, the sound of the bird song, the rustle of the wind in the trees to contemplate and free their minds and spirits of the busy, noisy, demanding distractions of contemporary life,” he said.
The hour of contemplation will take place during the final hour of opening, the exact time of which will vary by site. To find out opening hours for a particular monastic property, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.
The 16 former English monasteries taking part in the “hour of contemplation” include Rievaulx Abbey; the country’s oldest Carthusian monastery, Mount Grace Priory; Battle Abbey, founded by William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings; and Lindisfarne Priory.