Benedictine monks are to move out of historic Downside Abbey as they search for a new home for the community.
The last eight monks will lodge at Buckfast Abbey in Devon (pictured) while they attempt to reach a permanent decision about their future.
Downside School, an independent Catholic school adjacent to the abbey in Somerset, will continue under lay administration.
The monks voted to leave their abbey in Stratton-on-the-Fosse a year ago but easing of lockdown restrictions have only just made it possible.
They will move into Southgate House, a part of complex of the Benedictine abbey at Buckfastleigh, in a move described by Dom David Charlesworth, the Abbot of Buckfast, as a “stepping stone”.
They will be called the Community of St Gregory.
Dom David told the Catholic Herald that he was delighted to welcome the monks to Devon.
He said: “All of those living and working at the abbey, including the trustees, are looking forward to working with the community in accordance with the current ethos and standards maintained at the setting.
“The Downside community have expressed their gratitude to the Buckfast community for generously offering us a place where they can continue to live as a united community and discern where God is calling them next. They ask for prayers at this time.”
Downside Abbey was founded in 1814 by monks who fled from Douai during the French Revolution.
It boasted the largest neo-Gothic church built in England since the Reformation, with a 166ft tower designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, and was described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as “a splendid demonstration of the renaissance of Roman Catholicism in England”. The abbey also housed most of the relics of St Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh.
Among those to be received into the faith at the abbey was Siegfried Sassoon, the war poet and author, who became a Catholic in August 1957 after he was instructed by Downside monk Dom Sebastian Moore.
In 2018, Downside was severely criticised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse for allowing Fr Nicholas White to continue to teach in spite of allegations of sexual misconduct by a student. The monk was jailed for five years in 2012 for abuse of boys.
The inquiry was also critical of the burning of the personal records of the monks and teaching staff at Downside in a bonfire of 2012, ostensibly to create storage space but which added “to the perception of cover-up”.
Buckfast Abbey was built a century ago largely by French and German monks on the exact River Dart site of the original dissolved foundation.
It was improved extensively over the last 15 years, mostly in readiness for 2018, the celebratory millennium year of its foundation by a charter from King Canute in 1018, and is home to the hair shirt worn by St Thomas More, which is venerated in a side altar.
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