Introduction

Worth Abbey, founded in 1933, is a monastic community located in Sussex, England. It houses 22 Benedictine monks living a life following God and Jesus Christ, guided by the rules of Saint Benedict and their Abbot. In addition to the monastery, the site also houses a school, retreat house and day centres for the disabled and elderly.

History

While the history of the site itself is relatively short - especially compared to the 1500 years' longevity of the Rule of Benedict - the lineage of the monastery goes back to the 1607 foundation of the first English Benedictine community of Saint Gregory the Great in Douai, Northern France. While the community resided in France, it was made up of English and Welsh monks, avoiding the English persecution of catholics prevalent at that time.

For two hundred years, the community lived a peaceful life of prayer. They founded a school and worked closely with the University of Douai. Several monks were sent as missionaries to England, and became martyrs for their cause.

In 1793, the French Revolution began to cause problems. The University of Douai was suppressed, the monastery was ransacked, and the monks put under guard. Although English law was still anti-catholic, penalties were no longer enforced as they used to be, so the community escaped across the English Channel in 1794 and finally settled at Downside near Bath in 1814.

Downside flourished over the years, and in 1933, a new home was required for the junior boys of the school. John Chapman, Abbot of Downside found Paddockhurst, a large country house and estate, for sale. It was acquired, and several monks moved into what became Worth Priory and Preparatory School.

The success of both Worth and Downside led to an unmanageable number of monks and boys between the two sites, and so nineteen Downside monks moved into Worth permanently and the independence of the priory was announced in September 1967. Dom Victor Farwell was elected as prior, and served as superior for more than thirty years, with three re-elections.

Following Independence

Following the independence of the priory, it was now possible for the monks to concentrate on spreading their work, helping the community and others further afield. In 1968, a missionary programme began - with Peru being the choice of destination. They built a farm and mission in the remote Apurimac valley, and in Lima they founded a monastery, a church and a health centre serving about 80,000 of Peru's poorest people.

In 1964, the priory took over the pastoral care of four nearby villages and opened up to the lay population, with residential visits becoming available from 1971 - where the lay community were able to live and pray alongside the monks.

Abbey

In 1975, Worth Abbey was finally born as a result of the consecration of the Abbey Church - a contemporary, awe-inspiring building designed by Francis Pollen.

In 1977, a House of Studies was opened for junior sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of Grace and Compassion, and in 1984 they were given a dedicated convent close to the Abbey Church. In 1983 a further centre was opened experimentally in Dulwich in order to spread the monastic message to the needy of Inner-City London.

Reprioritisation

In 1988, Abbot Victor suffered ill health and resigned. He died shortly after. The community elected Dom Dominic Gaisford as their new Abbot. He was the best choice for the position, but unfortunately he was also the superior of the Lima foundation. His new position as Abbot back at home meant that, against their ideal wishes, the Lima presence had to be disbanded in 1990. The extra pressure meant that the Dulwich centre had to be closed too.

The good that came from these closures was that all the efforts of the monks could now be concentrated on their local community - the abbey, the school, the lay community and their parish.

The Abbey Church

The impressive Abbey Church is the largest church in Sussex, with seating for up to 1400 people. The foundation stone was laid in 1964, and the exterior finished in 2001. The interior is, at the time of writing, still not finished.

On weekdays, there are five services per day:
 
07:30 Morning Prayer
08:00 Said Mass
13:00 Midday Prayer
17:30 Sung Mass
18:40 Evening Prayer

Saturdays see four services:
 
07:30 Morning Prayer
09:00 Sung Mass
13:00 Midday Prayer
18:40 Evening Prayer

Sundays, likewise see four services:
 
07:20 Morning Prayer
08:00 Said Mass
18:00 Evening Prayer
21:30 Sung Mass


Sources:
http://www.downsideabbey.co.uk/
http://www.worth.org.uk/
http://www.worthabbey.net/