Downside Abbey – March 2016

I’ve not long returned from a short retreat at Downside Abbey. The community couldn’t have been more kind and welcoming, and there’s nothing like a bit of Gothic Revival.

I only went for a couple of days, as I hadn’t been sure how I would react to being ‘off-line’ and bound by the daily offices. As it turned out, I wish I’d had a longer time there.

I’m still processing the experience, but I’m sure it’s something I’ll do again (if they’ll have me).

France 2013(2) – Époisses

Époisses…a Mecca for cheese lovers…(the cheese was first made by monks, you know. Cheese, wine, beer, fab music…all that and prayer)…

…at also has a lovely chateau. Still in private hands, lucky buggers.

I was most taken with the dovecote, with nesting boxes for 3,000 birds…

…unicorn weather vane…

…and seriously cute watchtower, which is the motif on Fromagerie Berthaut packaging.

You work for monks…?

That’s the usual reaction I receive when I explain that I work at Blackfriars in Oxford. It can take a while to explain. Thought I’d prepare an FAQ.

Who do you work for?
I work at Blackfriars, Oxford, part of The English Province of the Order of Preachers (which also covers Scotland, Grenada and Barbados).

Who?
Dominican friars (the word friar is derived from the Latin word frater, which simply means brother), a religious order in the Roman Catholic church. In the UK they’re also known as Blackfriars, as they wear a black cloak over their white habit.

Monks then
No, monks are tied to a particular monastery, and although Dominicans live in communities, they can be called to serve anywhere they’re needed. That’s why I’ve had three managers in three years, not because I’m difficult to work with (honest).

So what’s Blackfriars, Oxford?

Blackfriars is three institutions:

  •  The Hall, a PPH, a Permanent Private Hall, an Oxford college (sorta, I told you it’s complicated) with males and female students, a mix of all religions, and none, studying a variety of subjects.
  • The Studium, a Roman Catholic study centre, training male members of religious orders to be ordained, with a few female members of religious orders and lay students studying philosophy and theology.
  • The Priory, the convent or friary where the brothers live. Services in the community chapel are open to the public, so although the brothers don’t run a parish, there is a large congregation associated with the Priory.
What do you do?

I’m the Assistant Bursar, and Academic Administrator, so I have a wide brief which covers finance, student housing, admissions, visas, and a variety of other things.
Isn’t it a bit weird working there? They can’t like women or they wouldn’t have chosen to be monks?
  1. It’s a unique environment certainly, and I love it. 
  2. They’re not monks (see above), not that it really matters that much.
  3. I’ve yet to meet a friar that doesn’t like women. Maybe it’s because they don’t have to live with them…:-). 
  4. I love working at Blackfriars.
Any more for any more?