News

22/09/2021

English Heritage introduces ‘hour of contemplation’ at its former monasteries

  • In a month long trial, visitors are encouraged to enjoy spiritual buildings in relative silence, just as they would have been experienced throughout history
  • Stephen Fry audio introduction available from the English Heritage website

English Heritage is launching an 'hour of contemplation' at its monasteries in a month-long trial this autumn. From 22 September until 22 October 2021, English Heritage will be encouraging visitors to turn off notifications on their phones, finish up their conversations and enjoy the final hour of public access to its abbeys and priories in contemplative quiet, enabling them to experience these spiritual buildings as they were intended.

Actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry, a tireless campaigner and advocate for mental health, has worked with English Heritage to record an audio introduction to the 'hour of contemplation'. The recording, available from the English Heritage website, invites visitors to seek peace and inspiration at the monasteries in the charity’s care this autumn and includes an evocative reading from Saint Aelred, 12th century abbot of the magnificent Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.

Dr Michael Carter, senior properties historian at English Heritage, explains, "For those who lived there, these monastic buildings offered an opportunity to live the heavenly life here on earth, and discover a spiritual inner peace. Throughout the centuries, people have turned to the monasteries now in the care of English Heritage as havens of contemplation and places of spiritual and physical renewal. With many people having experienced a very difficult past 18 months, we’re inviting visitors to escape from their cares for a short time, using the quiet, the sound of the bird song, the rustle of the wind in the trees to contemplate and free their minds and spirits of the busy, noisy, demanding distractions of contemporary life.

"In a modern world, where people are constantly rushing and expected to be at the end of a phone 24/7, we often find silence disconcerting. It’s important sometimes to take a step back, centre yourself and focus on appreciating the peace and tranquillity that is unique to these historic buildings – monuments to the human spirit and the divine, our ongoing quest for inner peace and fulfilment. Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, describing the majestic Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, wrote 'Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world' and we hope to offer this feeling of serenity to our visitors."

Rievaulx Abbey is one of 16 former monasteries across England taking part in the trial. Others include England’s best-preserved Carthusian monastery Mount Grace Priory home to a solitary order of monks, Battle Abbey founded by William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings, and Lindisfarne Priory, one of England’s most important centres of early Christianity.

The hour of contemplation will take place during the final hour of opening, the exact time of which will vary by site. To find out opening hours for a particular monastic property, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.

For further details on the 'hour of contemplation', go to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/whats-on/autumn-days-out/

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