AN ORDER of Benedictine nuns is looking to develop an abbey on the edge of a Yorkshire national park after seeing a surge in visitor numbers as people seek solace from the stress of modern life amid the global economic crisis.
The Community of Our Lady of Consolation, which dates from the 17th century, has launched a campaign to raise £2.4m for the latest phase of the development of Stanbrook Abbey, near Wass in North Yorkshire.
The nuns have seen a growing number of groups and individuals visiting the abbey to escape the pressures of the outside world.
Plans have now been drawn up to build an abbey church, four parlours, a guest wing and conference room at the eco-friendly monastery on the fringes of the North York Moors National Park, which they moved to in 2009.
Dame Andrea Savage, the Mother Abbess of Stanbrook Abbey, told the Yorkshire Post that the nuns had seen a rising number of visitors amid the ongoing economic crisis.
There is now at least one group travelling to the abbey every week after the nuns had previously dealt with only one visit a month.
Dame Andrea added: “We have seen more and more people coming to visit as they want to get away from the rat race. They just want peace and quiet and some time for quiet contemplation, especially at a time of such uncertainty.
“We are getting people of all faiths and no faith at all wanting to come, but at the moment we only have limited space.
“The community’s main work is prayer, and we want to share our life of prayer. In order to do this we need to build our abbey church to allow us to accommodate more people in the future.”
The renowned actress Patricia Routledge has agreed to be a patron of the fundraising appeal, which was launched yesterday.
Ms Routledge, who played Dame Laurentia McLachlan, a former Abbess of Stanbrook, in a 2006 performance of the play, The Best of Friends, said: “I know these are difficult times for all of us but I do believe the wonderful Stanbrook Community is very deserving of support.
“I hope that people may be able to find as much as they can manage towards funding the completion of their monastery.”
The 21 nuns moved to the new abbey in North Yorkshire from a Victorian building in Callow End, near Worcester, which was deemed no longer fit for purpose.
However, the new location near the village of Wass, which is to the west of Helmsley, can currently only accommodate about 15 visitors, although the expansion is aimed at increasing the number to as many as 50.
The next phase of development at the abbey will involve building a wing to the east of the main cloister which will include the church and chapel, sacristy, four parlours, conference room and the guest wing.
The new wing is aimed at allowing the nuns to live their Benedictine life more fully, although it is hoped that the project will also open up their work to the public.
Hospitality is a vital part of the Benedictine way of life, and four new guest parlours and a conference room will allow the nuns to welcome more guests.
The order of nuns will be able to use the church and Blessed Sacrament chapel for prayer – both in private and in community – rather than the chapter-house, which serves as a temporary chapel.
At this stage the nuns will also build the shell of the guest-house, which will be completed when funds become available.
The fundraising campaign has also been backed by two other patrons, the Most Rev Arthur Roche, the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Leeds, and the Bishop of Middlesbrough, the Rt Rev Terence Drainey.
The decision was taken to relocate to Yorkshire after the nuns’ former base in Worcestershire had become too expensive and difficult to heat and maintain. The new abbey in North Yorkshire was chosen partly because of the area’s monastic heritage, with the ruined abbeys of Rievaulx, Byland, and Whitby nearby, and Ampleforth Abbey just four miles away.
It was also heralded as a prime example of 21st century sustainability, enabling the nuns to live in harmony with nature and minimising their environmental footprint. The double-glazed building is heated with a state-of-the-art woodchip boiler, while the sedum roof provides a wildlife haven for insects and also retains heat.
The nuns harvest rain water, and also clean water through a reed bed system. Photovoltaic panels will also be added, allowing the nuns to use solar energy for electricity. The old Stanbrook Abbey, which was designed and built by the architect Edward Pugin in the 1870s, was sold the year after the nuns moved out.
Donations to the appeal can be made by visiting the Stanbrook Abbey website at www.stanbrookabbey.org.uk on the internet.