This Saturday 12th June was the occasion of one of the most joyful days in the life of our parish. About 25 children received their First Holy Communion. Then at the Sunday Masses the children were introduced to all the parishioners. We would love to show you some photos of this wonderful occasion but we would need the written consent of all the parents involved. We don’t have the means of doing that at the moment so you will just have to imagine what a wondeful occasion it was.
Last Sunday evening at the end of Vespers (Evening Prayer) in the Abbey grounds we sang the Salve Regina which is the antiphon to Our Blessed Lady that the monks of Newminster would have sang every night. This antiphon would have been the very last prayer on the lips of the monks on the very last night of the abbey’s existence – the night of 19th August 1537. There were 17 priests, 3 junior monks and 4 choir boys. I don’t have a recording of Cistercian monks singing the Salve Regina but I do have the most sublime recordings of Cistercian monks that are available today. What did the monks of Newminster Abbey sound like? Well here are two recordings of the monks of the Cistercian Abbey of Stift Heiligenkreuz in Austria. This abbey was founded 5 years before Newminster Abbey and has continued without interruption until our own day. The CD is called “Chant, Music of Paradise“. Here is the music and the story
Then watch this:
Here is an article that has been submitted for publication in the Northern Cross:
Parishioners of sister parishes St Robert’s, Fenham and St Robert of Newminster, Morpeth gathered in Morpeth on June 6, the eve of St Robert’s feast day, to honour the saint at the end of a year’s celebrations of the 850th anniversary of his death. Fenham parishioner and historian George Thornton was invited by Morpeth parish priest Fr Lawrence Jones to set the scene before the walk to the Abbey ruins. George explained:
“The 12th Century was a golden age of monasticism when, in England and Wales alone, around 500 religious houses were founded. To the fore were the White Monks or Cistercians, dedicated to a stricter interpretation of the Rule of St Benedict, who established 60 abbeys in this country. There was only one in our diocese, between the Tees and the Tweed, at Newminster, by the banks of the River Wansbeck. The founding abbot Robert (c. 1100-1159), a Yorkshireman, ruled as a wise and prayerful Father in Christ to his community for 20 years and is one of a galaxy of contemporaries deemed saints, by popular acclaim, including Godric of Finchale, Aelred of Rievaulx and the inspirational Bernard of Clairvaux. Daily life of the contemplative monks consisted of prayer, study and labour revolving round the Opus Dei, the Divine Office, sung seven times a day in the Abbey church from Matins at 3am to Vespers at night. As the White Monks became in later centuries increasingly involved in land management, especially the rearing of sheep and cattle, they lost their early apostolic zeal. As a small monastery of only 17 monks, Newminster Abbey was one of the first to be dissolved, in 1535, by Henry VIII and the site has been privately owned ever since. I have visited the tumbled and overgrown ruins many times over the years in all seasons, and never fail to find there an aura of sanctity for the place was hallowed for four centuries by the work and worship of good men.”
Led by cross-bearer David Lawson, the pilgrims followed the mile-long Lady’s Walk by the Wansbeck and gathered in the old chapter-house for Vespers. The rain did nothing to dampen their spirits as they sang hymns, heard psalms and concluded with the Magnificat, the Salve Regina and a blessing. George added:
“This was very appropriate as Our Lady is patroness of the Cistercian Order and all abbeys of White Monks are dedicated in her honour. From its foundation at Citeaux the Cistercian day has always ended in this way and still does.”
He told the pilgrims about the role of the chapter house in monastic life and pointed out a lidless stone coffin and incised stone crosses from the roof. The group then returned to the parish hall for welcome tea and cakes. George summed up:
“It was a spiritually uplifting afternoon. Our commemoration of the Feast of St Robert brought to mind a verse from Psalm 15: The lot marked out for me is my delight; welcome indeed is the heritage that falls to me.”
I have invited George to St Robert’s Morpeth to promote the new edition of his book when it is publised some time in the summer.
Fr Lawrence Jones.
The celebrations for St Robert’s Feast Day 2010 got off to a wet start on the afternoon of Sunday 6th June. A group of about 45 pilgrims set out from St Robert’s church for the one mile walk to the ruins of Newminster Abbey. There were members of St Robert’s Morpeth, St Robert’s Fenham, as well as Anglicans from Morpeth and Mitford. The ecumenical dimension really enhanced the celebration. We even had a lone pilgrim all the way from Sunderland who very kindly carried the processional cross.
We were very grateful to the owner of the land on which the abbey ruins stand for very kindly allowing us to use several gates which meant that there was only one stile to negotiate.
On arriving in the midst of what little remains of the abbey we found a clearing in what was once the Chapter House for a celebration of Vespers (Evening Prayer). This is the offical prayer of the Church which sanctifies the different parts of the day. When the monks were here they would have prayed the Divine Office (the official prayer of the Church) seven times a day. Here we were 400 years after the monks had been expelled doing exactly what they would have done every evening, praying the Office of Vespers (Evening Prayer). The format is exactly the same as it was then, a hymn, several psalms, a Scripture reading, the Magnificat (Song of Mary), intercessions and the Lord’s Prayer. It is much the same as Evensong in the Anglican tradition. The psalms were very dear to the monks and very familiar to them. During the course of a week they would have sung all 150 psalms. St Robert we know had a particular devotion to the Psalms and wrote a commentary on them. Unfortunately it no longer exists. It was said of St Robert, that he knew all the psalms “off by heart” and recited all 150 everyday. I am sure St Robert (and all the holy monks of the abbey over those 400 years) were smiling down on us on this wet Sunday evening as we recited the psalms, not sung in Latin like the monks would have done but very simply and prayfully recited in modern English. The psalms this evening were taken from the Common of Pastors and were very applicable to St Robert. Psalm 14 (15) for example:
Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent
and dwell on your holy mountain?
He who walks without fault;
He who acts with justice,
and speaks the truth from his heart;
He who does not slander with his tongue;
He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbor,
who holds the godless in disdain,
wut honors those who fear the Lord;
He who keeps his pledge, come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan,
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm for ever.
And again, the antiphon to one of the psalms, a quote from the words of Our Lord in the Gospel were very apt:
This is the wise and faithful servant whom the Master placed in charge of his household.
Like the monks would have done every evening before vespers, we first lit some candles, 13 in all. We know that when St Robert arrived from Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire he brought 12 monks with him to found the new monastery. This was the custom in imitation of Our Lord and the 12 apostles. So, these 13 candles struggling to stay alight in the rain reminded us of St Robert and that first band of monks who came here on the feast of the Epiphany 1138. We also offered some incense, again, something that would have been very familiar to the monks, and we prayed, let our prayer in your sight be as incense, the lifting up of our hands as the evening sacrfice, the words of psalm 141, which reminded us of all the prayers of the monks over 400 years which have made this place “hallowed ground” even today.
It was then back to the church hall for a much needed cup of tea and some cakes.
Celebrations continued the next day with the actual Feast of St Robert. The school children and staff at St Robert’s First School were given a treat when an ice cream van arrived to give everyone an icecream cornet. The Mass for St Robert’s feast was celebrated in the evening at 6pm. Immediately afterwards there was a Ceilidh and pie and pea supper in the nearby Riverside Lodge. A great night was had by all!
Finally, here is a photo of Newminster Abbey in 1950. You can see Mr Jim Doherty (Head Teacher at St Robert’s and Major of Morpeth.) He is pretending to be a bishop – holding his stick like a crozier and giving a blessing. With him is son and daughter, Mora and Michael.
So, we celebrated St Robert’s day very fittingly and brought the 850th anniversary year of his death to a very joyful conclusion.
St Robert of Newminster, pray for us.
A happy feast day to you all,
Fr Jim and Fr Lawrence.