IT IS A long time since I last visited the stirring Cistercian Abbey of Mount St Bernard in Leicestershire's Charnwood Forest, even more stirring if visited during Holy Week For within its grounds, perched atop one of the granite outcrops for which the forest is famous, is the spectacular Calvary created in the thirties by a community member, Fr Vincent Eley, the brilliant sculptor and author of A Monk al the Potter's Wheel.
This year is a very special one for the monks of Charnsvood Forest. For it is exactly 150 years ago that the Cistercian chaplains to the nuns of Stapehill Convent (in Dorset) arranged with Bishop Walsh of the "Midland District" for the foundation of Mount St Bernard near Coalville in Leicestershire.
The first monastery was soon superseded by a much larger neo-Gothic building designed by Pugin and in 1848 Mount St Bernard came to be headed by the first English Abbot since the Reformation. A plain cross then stood on the same granite "peak" now adorned by the mighty Calvary.
The Cistercians had first returned to England after the Reformation in 1795 and established themselves at Lulworth in Dorset. Their patrons were that most prodigal of old Catholic families, the Welds, who donated Stonyhurst to the Jesuits and later financed the founding of Mount Si Bernard.
Is it not the most amazing — if not, also, no doubt, providential — coincidence that the return of the Cistercians to England should have occurcd in the county of Dorset? For it was in that same county (at Sherborne) in the eleventh century that Stephen Harding was born and educated.
As a returning pilgrim from Rome he stopped off at the wooded wilderness of Citeaux in Burgundy and decided to join up with its unusually austere Benedictine monks.
He then drew up the rule which organised all "Cistercians" into one regular order and is thus considered to be their founder.
With such material at hand, along came Bernard of Clairvaulx, the order's so-called "second founder," to kindle a fire which was to sweep across and consume the whole of Europe in a veritable conflagration of monastic zeal. But let him riot take away all the limelight from that sterling Englishman who set out on one of history's most fateful, pilgrimages from a spot so near/ to which a small number of his "sons" were to resettle in peaceful triumph seven centuries later.
Stephen was the name taken by one of those first Lulworth novices who went on to be a founder member of the community at Mount St Bernard. (There was a break between 1817 and 1831 when the order was forced, through legal complications, temporarily to leave England).
But that Fr Stephen and a few companions preserved a link between Mount St Bernard and Lulworth and, through the latter, (geographically, if fancifully, speaking) with St Stephen Harding himself.
Mount St Bernard is the only Cistercian monastery on the mainland of England and Wales. No prizes for guessing the identity of its romantic "offshore" Abbey.'*
Hodder a winner
HAV1NCI had the honour of being published before now by the distinguished house of Hodder and Stoughton, I was delighted when they won two major awards at the recent annual Christian Booksellers' Convention at Blackpool, now in its tenth year.
They were voted Publishers of the Year and the late David
Watson's book, Fear No Evil, was voted by an unprecedented majority the Book of the Year.
This is the second year running that Hodders have won
these awards. I was told that Fear No Evil had sold 150,0(X) copies in less than a year.
Several noted Hodder authors were at the Convention including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Coggan who spoke at the opening banquet on the Christian reading public's need for "strong meat" and not just "titbits."
Good old Coggan! 1 have liked him ever since, having introduced him as the principal speaker at a dinner with much praise for his accomplishments to date (his elevation to Canterbury was expected at any moment) he thanked me, with a wry smile, for my "laudatory obituary ."
Happy returns CONGRATULAI IONS — four days late I fear — to Mia Woodruff, widow of the one and only Douglas, on hen eightieth birthday. She would rightly be cross with me were I to dwell on her own valour, wisdom and compassion, to say nothing of her lightning wit. But she will not mind my saying what a perfect wife she was to the gentle giant who bestrode the narrow world of postChesterbelloc Catholic England like a Colossus.
Despite the massive output and activity generated by his encylopaedic k now ledge and prodigious memory he always (because he happened to be very kind) seemed to have lots of time for ordinary things and people.
As a schoolboy in 1944 1 remember writing to The Tablet venturing to suggest (naively?) that the policy of "unconditional sun ender" might advantageously be replaced — the better to face Russia later — by concerted and well publicised efforts to negotiate with the anti-Hitler forces in Germany.
Douglas disagreed, setting out his reasons in a painstaking letter which I am very sorry to have lost.
As kinsnian, friend and fount of knowledge he was without peer. But without Mia, he would surely never have enjoyed the fulfilled life he so richly deserved. May her happy memories he accompanied by every other possible blessing.
Isis goes down big
I AM currently engaged in the spare-time task of taping a hook of my own for eventual use by an organisation called CALIBRE. (It is not nearly as easy as 1 thought it would be!) I mention the fact primarily to give the latest news about this exceedingly enterprising Library for the Blind and Handicapped.
Though not as big as the library service supplied by the mighty RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind), Calibre, presently expanding its now computerised service, is uniq LI C in supplying, completely free, "books" recorded on ordinary cassette tapes, and useable on any standard machine.
Grateful members are becoming increasingly numerous. Almost all its workers are voluntary and its current address is Tindal Hospital, Aylesbury, Bucks HP20 IHU (Tel: (0296) 32339).
My other reason for bringing all this up is to welcome, as it were, the arrival of a new "Large Print" publishing venture by Isis of 55 St Thomas Street, Oxford. One of their first publications is an excellently produced large print version (all in one volume) of In the Silence of the Heart and A Chain of Suffering, which have been compiled by Kathryn Spink from the writings and meditations of Mother 'Teresa. (Isis Large Print titles are available only by direct application to the publishers at the above address.) Long and strong nay be the tide of Isis in this admirable direction.
I WOULD have been grateful on the Sunday of last week for the power of bilocation, as I wanted to attend a special celebration of the Liturgy at the Coptic (Orthodox) Church in ,Kensington as well as hearing my daughter singing in the Ripieno Chorus section of the Bach Choir when presenting the Sr Matthew Passion al the Royal Festival Hall.
, In the end I managed to attend the major part of each — the Coptic Liturgy in the morning and the principal part of the Passion in the afternoon.
The former was made special in being celebrated by a distinguished visitor, Bishop Antonius Marcos, Coptic Bishop in charge of African Affairs and normally based in Kenya. He afterwards told me that he had taken advantage of this visit to Britain to thank various Catholic, Anglican and other churchmen — including the 'Archbishop of Canterbury — for their part in pressurising the Egyptian authorities to release from "internal exile' — virtual "house arrest" in a monastery — of Pope Shenouda Ill, Bishop of Cairo and leader of the world's 20 million Coptic members of the Orthodox Church.
This release had been a great event but it was distressing to hear that Christians in Egypt are by no means yet free of harrassment because of the socalled "Hayamoni Line," an ancient Ottoman law now being reinvoked by fundamentalist Muslims to damage and even destroy Christian churches.
Such churches are technically "illegal," though their presence is tolerated by the police. But if they are burned down by fanatics there is, I am told, no redress since such churches have no legal existence.
The Ayatollah-Gadaffi wing of Islam is responsible, it seems, for this sort of policy, resulting from their own reinterpretation of the Koran, whereby former recognition of Judaism and Christianity as valid co-religions 'has now been "abrogated': by God IIiniself.
Fortunately all opposition is not silenced in Egypt and a dramatic protest against antiChristian activity recently appeared in one of Cairo's newspapers.
Its most fascinating aspect was that it was written by the parish priest, Fr Marcos. Khalil, of one of the most famous churches in the world, and possibly the oldest.
This is the Church of the Holy Virgin in the Fortress of Babylon in Old Cairo and known as the "Hanging Church" of Al Mu'allaqah. It is so-called because it "hangs" between the two towers of the ancient Roman Fortress. and was built in the very earliest Christian period.
The "moral unity" of Copts all over the world (because of their common Egyptian origins) is remarkable and may be said to include those, in the minority, who are Catholic and Anglican as well as Orthodox.
How the splits originally came is another, and very long, story which one day l must try to unravel , .
Bach with a bite
MEANWHILE, back at the Festival .Hall . . the famous Bach Choir was presenting the 526th concert since its inception in 1876. Excitement was heightened by awareness of other celebrations of the third centenary of the birth of Bach and by the presence among the soloists of Dame Janet Baker.
The lyrical interpolations in Bach's Matthew Passion are its obvious high spots. In the miraculously perfect accoustics of the Festival Hall every syllable came across with spellbinding force to the packed auditorium. • The tradition against applause on such occasions meant that as the conductor, Sir David Willcocks, left the rostrum with the other principal artistes, appreciation, breathlessly suppressed in tense silence, was positively deafening.
It was on a Good Friday — at Leipzig in 1729 — that this musical version of the Passion was first "performed" — as part of a prolonged service of Vespers. Thereafter, in a primarily Protestant atmosphere, the work was virtually forgotten until, a hundred years later, the musical initiative Passed to the more Catholic part of Europe — notably the Viennese school of Haydn and Mozart. Not long thereafter, however, the Matthew Passion came to transcend past religious differences and its universal popularity in modern times — certainly in this country — owes an enormous debt to its annual presentation over so many years by the inimitable Bach Choir.