Timothy Wright, former Abbot of Ampleforth

Timothy Wright, who has died at 76, was the former Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire, noted for his pioneering dialogue with Islamic religious leaders.

Abbot Timothy Wright

Born Martin Wright in New Ollerton, Nottinghamshire he was educated at Ampleforth along with his three brothers. He joined the community in 1962, taking the monastic name Timothy, and was ordained priest 10 years later.

Prior to that, he had studied geography and when he joined the academic staff of Ampleforth College in the early 1970s it was as a teacher of the subject, as well as religious studies, and, later, geology.

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He was invited to become an officer in the Combined Cadet Force, specialising in adventure training, and led expeditions along the Pennine Way, the Western Highlands Way, the Pyrenees and the Italian Alps.

From 1977 to 1991 as a senior Master, he developed new exam papers for the Oxford and Cambridge Board.

March 1997 saw his election as seventh Abbot of Ampleforth, a post he held until 2005. His abbacy saw the flourishing of a Catholic-Shia Muslim dialogue, with the Abbey hosting a number of meetings with Catholic and Shia experts in theology and spirituality.

There was also some local controversy on his watch. In 2002, Alan Dodd, the creator of a 50ft Millennium Cross erected in tribute to the late Cardinal Basil Hume accused him of “vandalism” by removing part of the work.

Fr Wright ordered that a 16ft metal scroll be left off, deeming it too “fussy and complicated” for local people.

“What would people say if they removed the arms from the Angel of the North?” wondered Mr Dodd, whose work was paid for by a list of patrons that included the Queen.

Fr Wright responded: “We like plain speaking up here, and plain symbols as well. The artist’s design was very fussy. We prefer a straightforward, traditional Cross and that is what we are going to have.”

In September 2006, Fr Wright began work as a spiritual director at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome, which saw him visiting Benedictine communities in Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Burundi and elsewhere.

In 2012 he was awarded a Doctorate by the University of Lampeter, for his thesis on developing a new form of Benedictine community dedicated to dialogue with Islam. The work was published in book form under the title, No Peace without Prayer.

Last year, he was in Iran to receive a special award from the country’s President for his contribution to the inter-religious dialogue between Catholics and Shia Muslims.