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Christianity frontpageMalling Abbey - Peace and Prayer

For several years now I've taken an annual retreat at Malling Abbey in Kent, an Anglican Benedictine convent. I first went in Lent 2006 at the recommendation of my rector when I was a curate, only later discovering that he'd never actually been there himself ...!

The Abbey was founded by Bishop Gundulf of Rochester in 1090; it was never very large, and never housed more than about 30 Benedictine nuns, and went through unhappy times over the centuries when the Sisters were clearly not behaving in a terribly nunly fashion
. The Abbey was suppressed in 1538 and the 13 nuns then in community were driven out. The buildings passed through a variety of owners before the Akers family bought the estate in 1849. The Akerses were a devout Anglo-Catholic family who felt increasingly uneasy at owning property which had once belonged to the Church. They restored the old Pilgrim's Chapel and invited several Anglican Sisterhoods to use the buildings. In 1893 the Community of SS Mary & Scholastica took over the site and it became a religious house for the first time in 350 years. The Sisters joined the Roman Catholic church in 1911 and left, but in 1916 another Anglican Sisterhood arrived and have remained there ever since.

he Sisters at Malling are largely an enclosed order whose work is prayer, spiritual writing, looking after the Abbey and the two thousand-or-so guests who stay in it every year to take part in the life of contemplation for a short while. The full round of monastic offices is observed in the austere and simple 1960s church, and guests can take part in as much or as little as they please.

Malling Abbey Gatehouse
The site contains both modern buildings and the remaining structures of the medieval Abbey, including the Gatehouse, the Guest House part of which dates back to about 1400, and the massive west tower of the old Abbey Church, which dominates the area open to the public. A stream rising at St Leonard's Well south of the town runs through the grounds.

On my first visit I found the worship calming, the environment a great help to reflection, and the food tasty and plentiful - though not always at the level of the banoffee pie which was served as the celebratory dessert on St Benedict's Day one year. That first occasion, I wanted to renew my ordination vows while there (having missed the Chrism Mass at Guildford,when it should have happened, because it was moved to Monday to avoid clashing with Her Maj dishing out the Maundy money there on Thursday), and the Mother Abbess very kindly heard them for me! I have always welcomed the chance to come back to the deep peace of the Abbey, remarkably just off the busy streets of the small town of West Malling outside the walls.

There's no charge for staying at the Abbey as the Sisters regard looking after guests as part of their duty of hospitality. But donations are always welcome
, as are enquiries about the religious life. Archbishop Justin Welby has said that there can be no revival in Christianity generally without a revival in the religious life, and Malling was where I first got an inkling as to what that lifeis truly about - swapping the extensive relationships the rest of us cultivate through our lives for intensive ones, choosing to know a particular place and particular set of people in it, to the exclusion of distraction or diversion. It is a brave thing to do, and I'm grateful there are people within the Anglican Church who for Christ's sake choose to do it.
The Abbey Gatehouse & Pilgrims Chapel
Malling Abbey grounds
The grounds and the West Tower
Malling Abbey guesthouseMalling Abbey Pilgrims Chapel
Inside the Guest House
Inside the Pilgrims Chapel
See here for Abbey contact details.

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