Downside Abbey

The Benedictine Monastic Community

Downside School

The Catholic School for pupils 11 - 18

Old Gregorians

The Community for old boys and girls

Monastery at Downside Abbey and the Benedictine community Monastery at Downside Abbey and the Benedictine community Monastery at Downside Abbey and the Benedictine community Monastery at Downside Abbey and the Benedictine community Monastery at Downside Abbey and the Benedictine community
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life at douai

Our Community began its life in Douai, northern France, in 1606. Monastic life was not possible in England at that time because of the Reformation. The first monks of our community came from England and Wales.

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our martyrs

During the Reformation, when the Christian family was torn apart, many people, including lay-people as well as priests and monks, were killed in England and Wales in the hatred of religious strife. They gave their lives for the good of their fellow Christians and for the unity of the Church in this country. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared forty of them to be saints, among them St John Roberts and St Ambrose Barlow, monks of St Gregory’s. Others were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987. Pope Paul said at their canonisation: ‘They will be a true safeguard of those real values in which the genuine peace and prosperity of human society are rooted.’

Six members of the community of St Gregory’s were martyred for being Catholic monks.

Bl. George Gervase (1569-1608)
St John Roberts (1576-1610)
Bl. Maurus Scott (c. 1578-1612)
St Ambrose Barlow (1585-1641)
Bl. Philip Powell (c. 1594-1646)
Bl. Thomas Pickering (1621-1679)

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arrival at downside and early developments

After being expelled from France in 1795, our community was first received by the Smythes, a Gregorian family, in their Shropshire house at Acton Burnell. When we finally arrived at Downside in 1814, we found ourselves near the well-established Catholic mission in Bath.Nevertheless, thanks to the energy of community and the determination of two Priors in particular, Dom Bernard Barber and Dom Peter Wilson, our community was quickly able to establish the pattern of life we had lived in Douai.

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missionary work of downside monks

The English Mission refers to the work done by priests, both secular and religious, to provide for Catholics in this country during the time of the Penal Laws. Initially working underground, and typically from the houses of Catholic gentry, gradually small chapels and ‘missions’ grew up around the country, which during less punitive times became increasingly visible. In order to supply priests for this work the English Benedictines at first adopted an unusual system that meant a monk, once he was ordained, could be sent out of his monastery to work under the authority of one of two Provincials, who supervised the missions in the North and South of the country. Monastic communities, which were Priories rather than Abbeys, remained small and for the most part contained the younger monks of the Congregation, who worked in the schools.

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monastic reform after 1890

By the end of the Nineteenth Century the old system for the Benedictine missions needed to be reorganised to meet the changing needs of the Church in this country. At the same time in the monasteries themselves, and particularly at Downside, there was a strong desire to strengthen the spiritual life by intensifying the liturgical and contemplative elements of monastic observance.

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recent developments

Downside has a strong tradition of monastic life and prayer to draw on, but things do not stand still. In recent years, smaller numbers have helped to strengthen the bonds of community life in the monastery. The liturgical changes following the Second Vatican Council introduced a long transitional period in which the community decided to adopt English into the singing of the Liturgy, while the traditional plainsong was kept at Mass. Since 2000 there has been further renewal of both the Office and the Mass in the light of the current provisions for the monastic liturgy.

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