Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"The Invisible Church", The Abbey of the Kings

The Abbey of the Kings, found within the Beaulieu Estate, near Southampton, is the Ecclesia Sanctae Mariaee De Bello Loco Regis founded by King John in 1204 A.D. Beaulieu Abbey was founded as a Cistercian Monastery, given to the Cistercian monks of Citeaux, France. It was, however, closed in 1538 by King Henry VIII, whilst most of the buildings were demolished. 

The pictures here show how it is currently "an invisible church", since the column basis are still there, the high alter is still present (in a unique form), some walls are still standing, however, the church is actually non-existent. The imagination takes over, where by being inside it, you feel the presence of an old church of another epoch and tradition, alien to modern church buildings and mentality. 

The west door of the abbey was the main entrance, nevertheless the monks usually came into the church from the cloister or their dormitory. 

When the Abbey Church was completed in 1246, it was the largest Cisterian church in England, with an overall length of 336 feet and a width of 182 feet. It was a thriving community for nearly 300 years.

Beaulieu Abbey was built towards the end of the great revival of Christian faith and culture which took place from the middle of the tenth to the thirteenth centuries. Around 1000 monasteries, abbeys and priories were built across England in the years following the Norman Conquest in 1066. The monks devoted their lives to meditation, prayers for the living and for the souls of the dead and works of charity. The original monastic order was Benedictine , but reformist orders followed, notably the Cluniacs, Cistercians and Carthusians. It has been estimated that by the middle of the 14th century there were about 17.000 monks and nuns out of a total population of around 4-5 million people. The only surviving wall is the one that adjoins the cloister. Foundations of the other walls were uncovered by archaeological excavations early in the 20th century. Picked out in rubble, these show the outline of the abbey walls. 

The space behind the high altar, now represented by a box hedge, contained a series of radial chapels which were dedicated to specific saints. Special masses were said in these chapels. 
Saint Bernard, talking about the Abbey explains, "it is good for us to be in this place for here a man lives more worthily falls from grace more rarely rises more swiftly, walks more carefully, rests more peacefully, dies more happily, is absolved more speedily, is rewarded more bountifully".

Currently, next to the "invisible church", there is the parish church of Beaulieu. After the dissolution ot the monastery in the 16th century, the current building, which had previously been the monks' refectory or dining hall, began to be used as the parish church and has been so used by the parishioners of Beaulieu ever since. 

The parish church has a lovely prayer, upon entrance, stating: "Wayfarer, who comest hither to visit this House of God, leave it not without a prayer. Give thanks to Almighty God for all his blessings; for all those who in past ages built & beautified this place & for all, who worshipping here, have gone forth to serve God in Church &State. Offer thyself in the like service of God's will & for the furtherance of the Gospel. The Lord Bless thy going out & thy coming in".   

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