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.