WHEN YOU enter through the Priory, Wadhurst, Sussex, you will see a carved wooden statue of the great St Benedict at the foot of the oak staircase, his finger on his lips, calling you to silence.
His presence, and the Real Presence, are the keys to the very existence of this Priory and Retreat House of the sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre OSB, more popularly known as the Tyburn nuns. There are nine nuns in this enclosed community, and, as at Tyburn Convent, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration in the convent chapel. In Wadhurst it is from Nocturns at 5.45am until Compline at 8.05pm.
If you are thinking of a day retreat, or a weekend of relative solitude and silence, in which to catch up on your prayer life, St Benedict's is somewhere where you can join in the daily Eucharistic Sacrifice with the nuns and take part in their Liturgy of the Hours of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Days of recollection or weekend retreats are unstructured. You do your own thing, spiritually. It is a do-it-yourself retreat house with five single rooms, a dining room, a kitchen, and bathrooms. Dinner is provided by the nuns. All other meals are prepared by guests for themselves, from stores provided.
The upstairs guest rooms, which overlook the ornamental gardens, with its little lake and ornate Willow Pattern bridge, have a splendid view of the rolling Sussex landscape as far as Mark Cross. There is also the "Anchorhold" on the ground floor adjacent to the chapel. This is made up of a bedsitting room for one, two or three persons, with a kitchen-dining room, and a bathroom. The priory was formally a private hotel set in its own grounds. Today it is by no means a Hilton hotel, but it is comfortable, and the terms are moderate and inclusive. Details may be had from Mother Prioress, St Benedict's Priory, Beech Hill, Wadhurst, Sussex. Telephone 089-288-2588. There available giving details of how to get there. By train, from London to Wadhurst Station, from Charing Cross Station, is roughly a one hour journey. Wadhurst Station is one and a half miles from the Priory, so you will need to order a taxi.
If you are driving by car from London the Priory is a few miles south of Tunbridge Wells, along the A267, through the lovely village of Frant, then bear left on the B2099, past Wadhurst Station. on the road to Wadhurst you turn right on to the B2100. The Priory is on the right hand side of the road.
One last thought, while you may wish to go on an unstructured retreat, the sisters are always on hand if you want guidance in your prayer-life. There are also of course, guided days of recollection, with special emphasis on the worship of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, which take place throughout the year.
And finally, it's a great place in which to stop and think and ponder on the Real Presence in the chapel, on what Ronald Knox once described as "the monstrance with its tremendous Burden of Living Silence".
As you leave the main door of the Priory you will see, across the car park, in a simple green field, set against a backdrop of tall trees, the little plain wooden crosses which mark the graves of those valiant Benedictine women, the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre, who have gone before us, to eternal peace.