or The Curate's Egg
laexchange the glories of Rome for the bucolic bliss of England's West Country nd a few days of drinking in the peace. The cottage I have booked has views across the hills of Exmoor on one side and the North Devon Coast on t' other.
The scenery is a therapy in itself. Beauty always is, but there is a quality about this place which seems to calm and relax me and I have been wondering why exactly it should be such a haven. 'Ibe scenery is rugged, after all; the hills like the shoulders of sleeping giants, the colours brown and green and purple and the wind catching the woods on Ley Hill like an unseen hand brushing the lump of a great green cloth.
St Paul says you can see the Creator in his works and here the scale and beauty of the place does raise the heart and mind, but in a way that leaves your feet rooted to the ground. To see the grandeur of God in this place leaves some deep, deep sense of belonging here; of being heir to this beauty that has formed over aeons of time.
So the routine is one of no routine: lazy mornings, farm eggs for breakfast and a leisurely read of the breviary, then maybe a walk. One day I take the path along the coast, on another u-ace the path that winds to the top of the beacon, another day's walk is through the ancient woodlands startling the occasional deer.
Sunday was particularly blissful. I know it is foolish, but somehow old habits die hard and though Sundays are now working days, something inside me still thinks of them with the habit formed from family and working life, as days of mst with a special feeling of sabbath. I am sure that this is no longer really the case for anyone now; so many shops are open and sports events take place, There is, of course, a great joy about Sunday still, but, at the risk of sounding petulant, I wish there was more time to enjoy it.
After Mass at the nearby parish this was the laziest Sunday I have had all year. How blissful to leave the lunch table with nothing more to occupy your thoughts than whether a bit of a walk or a bit of doze is more to the point. In the event I opted for a walk and a cream tea and I was curled up with a defective story just at the time when I would normally be girding my loins for the evening Mass.
It is so nice to forget what day of the week it is, so I can't tell you if it was llesday or Wednesday when I visited Cleeve Abbey. Cleeve was a Cistenian house with 16 or 17 monk.s when it was dissolved in 1537. The church is ruined, but the monastic buildings are the most completely preserved in England. There is a beautiful refectory intact. flooded with sunlight from the high lancet windows where the monks ate under the eyes of the carved angels who throng the roof. The upper floor of one whole wing of the cloister, some 50ft long, is the monks' dotter, or dormitory. The simplicity of the mom is again picked out by the sun falling at regular intervals along the floor through the tall windows, as though a patch of golden light marked the space where each monk lay. They would have been up long before the sun, mind you, filing down the night stairs for Matins at 2.30am.
It is hard not to be irritated by some of the "educational" material provided by English Heritage who now own and manage the site. A display in the foyer glosses over the dissolution of the monasteries in a sentence, having pointed out that the Cistercians had begun a strict reform and, horror of horrors, by the sixteenth century had started to introduce sonic decoration into their churches, even some stained glass. Evidence of their conuption is again adveded t9 in the sacristy where there is "some colourlid wall-painting". Likewise, we are supposed to he scandalised by the single fireplace in the monastery which was not pnwided flit in the original rule. Acid to this the fact that the monks' agricultural skills were such that they turned the poor land they had been given into flourishing farmland and it seems self-evident that something had to be done about them.
AAnd so the house was c and plundered nd the monks pensioned off. Thus England lost her network of schools and social services for hundreds of years.. More difficult to cost in terms of its damage, was the destruction of the monastic Opus Dei.
Here now the bare ruined choir stands where hills reach to heaven and the fields still need ploughing and reaping. Here still men live below the moor, troubled by the seasons of the heart and the frailty of love. No psalms ascend now in the valley, there is no one there to watch the night with prayer. Amidst so much beauty, somebody should be praising God for it, somebody raising heart and mind for all those whose gaze is bent down.