Thursday, 24 March 2011

A short retreat…


I have recently come back from a visit to a Cistercian abbey, the Holy Cross at Whitland, Wales.

As an aside, I am actually surprised I came back on time. I was first delayed by an electric failure which stopped all trains coming in and out of Cardiff. Miraculously, I arrived at the airport only 10 minutes late, thanks to the efficiency of Bridgend station manager and to the fact that Cardiff Airport is a small airport, with only a handful of gates and few flights (and, consequently, few passengers). All in all, my  acquired conviction to avoid London has been proven right. As if the stress of possibly missing a plane was not enough, my second flight from Dublin to Oslo got delayed to to technical failure with the aircraft. Only thanks to the fact that it was a Ryanair flight, and we were in Dublin, did the delay take merely 50 minutes (that included a change of aircraft). Tough day, you bet, but, as you can see, I was well taken care of – by Him who holds all things in being and outside of Whose will nothing can truly exist or take place. So, along with the Hasidic rabbis, whose sayings I’ve been reading lately, I was made to say, “This, too, is for good.”

Sitting through Cistercian Chapters, being able to pray as much as I wanted, dinner in the cloister while chatting with Esther de Waal across table, reading the Psalms and Megilloth with rabbinical commentaries – it has been sheer luxury, in spiritual terms.

Esther de Waal turned out to be a fantastic lady, educated, intelligent, passionate about all things Cistercian, and, at her age of 80, incredibly alert and energetic. I met Meg Funk on my last visit to Whitland, so this running into famous writers has become a habit. I was so inspired by the new library and talk about books that I started seriously considering writing a scientific paper on Cistercian architecture. Sober reasoning tells me it was wishful thinking – I would have to be a monastic to be able to write any scientific paper, much less one on Cistercian architecture.

Whitland is a kind of place nobody has ever heard about – simply because there is nothing there. It may be, however, interesting to learn that Whiland is the site of an assembly, sometimes also described as the first Welsh parliament, called by Welsh king Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) in AD 930. Whitland, up until Henry VIII’s times, has also been home to a Cistercian abbey founded by the mother house in Clairvaux. There is not much left of it at present.

Coming back to Cistercian architecture, though. Here are some fine examples of modern functioning abbeys, with Whitland being the first, of course:

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