Buckfast Abbey for Visitors
Buckfast Abbey is situated just off the A38 halfway (about 25 miles) between Plymouth and Exeter in the county of Devon in the Westcountry.
The Abbey is open to visitors and offers a beautiful day out for visitors to the area. The very air seems to exude peace and tranquillity. This may be partly due to the beautiful gardens that are lovingly cared by the Benedictine Monks and which, thanks to the carefully tended bee colonies, produce exquisite honey.
Buckfast Abbey offers many things to a visitor, contemplation and prayer in the truly beautiful church. The sensory delights of the gardens, the equally wonderful sensory delights of the restaurant, the intellectual delights of the museum, and the joy of handling the result of skill and hard work in the monks craft shop. For sale are the Abbeys own ale, tonic wine, honey, fudge and beeswax carvings.
As part of a day out Buckfast Abbey is within a short car journey of both the historic city of Plymouth and Exeter and the beautiful town of Dartmouth. Buckfast is also on the edge of Dartmoor which provides ample opportunity for excursions.
The Abbey also welcomes those who wish to spend some time away from society and live for a while among the brothers
The History of Buckfast Abbey
Buckfast Abbey was founded in 1018 under the reign of King Cnut. The Abbey was granted sufficient lands to sustain itself admirably under the management of its small team of Benedictine monks. The original building would probably have been a small wooden structure near the river, yet the first incarnation of the Abbey has unfortunately remained lost to Archaeological eyes so we can only imagine the first humble pioneer monks struggling to bring about an order that would last into the future.
The humble Benedictine community continued until the reign of King Stephen who, in 1136 intervened in the community's affairs by imposing his choice of Abbot, a Frenchman from Savigny. It is unknown how the community responded to this imposition, yet it was soon overshadowed by a far more drastic change as, in 1147 Buckfast Abbey joined the Cistercian Order. The Cistercian life was far more Spartan than even the simple Benedictine order. Everything was pared down to its fundamentals, food became vegetarian, robes were left undyed and silence was enforced. In contrast, the Abbey buildings were recreated in a new glory. The wooden structures were replaced with a vast stone structure large enough to have been a cathedral. The monks place was to be humble devotion to a new, grand, house of God.
Under the Cistercian rule Buckfast flourished, in modern terms becoming a major international corporation. Buckfast began to produce wool at a phenomenal rate, exporting to France, Germany and possibly Italy. This prosperity came to a crashing halt in the mid fourteenth century as the Black Death swept across Europe leaving few places untouched. We do not know the details of the effects on the Abbey, but the area around the Abbey was devastated. Evidence shows that at this time the Abbey Almshouse (which served as the local hospital) was burnt down and many of the buildings fell into disuse, as would be expected with a sudden reduction in population.
By the 15th century the Abbey had recovered and was once more prospering and supporting the local community. The Almshouse was rebuilt, the school was renovated and a growing community of Monks were praying for the souls of the world. To help them pray much of the new wealth was funnelled into renovations of the church, making it an even grander monument to God’s glory.
The 16th century brought with it King Henry VIII and his assumption of the role as sole head of the Church in England and God's representative on Earth. This role he pursued with such a fervour that by the end of his reign he had dissolved the majority of monastic communities in England and transported untold wealth into his coffers. Buckfast was one such monastery. It was forced to close on the 25th of February 1539, the land passing to the King. Much of the church was used as a quarry, the metal sold off and the smaller buildings handed out to the Kings favourites.
The years passed and the land changed hand several times until one day in 1882 an exiled monk seeking shelter in Britain noticed an advert offering the land that had once been Buckfast Abbey. Six weeks later a community of monks began to work the land at Buckfast after a break of 343 years. The monks began to plan for the development of the site, but work did not start until one monk, while digging up vegetables, uncovered the foundations of the old church.
The first Abbot of the new Abbey sadly drowned but the second Abbot launched a campaign to rebuild the old Abbey church on its original foundations. This was a mammoth task, particularly considering the fact that they had a workforce of five monks, only one of whom had stoneworking experience, yet they had faith. The monks began work and simply didn’t stop, when the funds ran dry they would work on the stones they had, when they gained money they buy new stone and add that to the slowly growing church. The first world war came and went and still the monks worked until. In 1932 the church, though still not completed, was deemed usable and it was consecrated, a service watched by thousands on site, and listened to by many more through the BBC wireless broadcast. In 1937 the final stone was laid and, the scaffolding removed, and the church of Buckfast Abbey once more stood on its foundations.