Thesis writing and the various thrills and spills of the vita monastica have caused me to neglect the blog. Maybe that is a good thing. A series of events, not with an ominous air when seen together, have challenged any sanguine approach I might have had towards the current state of play in the Church and the world. The dismal presidential election in the USA, the hideous new presidency in the Philippines, the aggressive posturing of Putin, the demonic embodiment that is IS/Daesh, exhortations to “celebrate” the tragedy of the Reformation, the recent radical reformation of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and a series of earthquakes in Italy that have destroyed the basilica in St Benedict’s home town, Norcia – all these militate against optimism.

So, distracting myself in nostalgia (a traditional escape) I discovered that I had not made any further progress in a mini-series I started just over four years ago, on Douai’s abbey church. It seeks to be a sort of photo-essay showing the changes in the abbey church since its construction in the early 1930s, and the first part is still up and might need re-reading before heading into part 2 which I am now, finally, going to get around to posting (a useful distraction from other work I should be doing… plus ça change).


In part 1 the focus was more on the building of the original part of the abbey church and its general arrangement, including its side altars. These were few in the abbey church because the majority of altars for the fathers’ daily Masses were already erected in the old college church, St Mary’s, which had been reconfigured for monastic use after our arrival in 1903. Here we will look a little more at the pre-conciliar choir. In the original plans by Sir Arnold Crush, and never fully built, what is now the monastic choir was intended to be the Lady chapel. It makes for a very serviceable monastic choir to this day.

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The original floorplan of Sir Arnold Crush. By 1933 only the area from the Lady chapel to just before the transept chapels had been built,and work was suspended due to financial constraints. The Lady chapel became the choir and what is marked above as sanctuary and choir became the nave.
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The compromise arrangement after building work was suspended in 1933. The high altar is initially called the Lady altar, probably demonstrating the optimism that the monks’ had that they would finish the church to plan sooner rather than later. To the left of the altar can be seen the ornate back of the original abbatial throne, now in the parish church. There is no organ yet. The cantors’ stools and desk were smuggled from our old Pugin monastery in Douai as we went into exile in 1903. The stools are still here; sadly the desk was sold by a monk with eye for a quick quid but no eye for history.
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By the 1950s a more imposing abbatial throne had been installed, as had an organ and a baldacchino over the altar.
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A clean choir and sanctuary.
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The completed altar setting satisfied the tenets of noble simplicity, devoid of extravagant ornamentation but still with vested altar, big six, carpets, veiled tabernacle and sturdy baldacchino. It was, to say the very least, decorous.
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Another day, a closer shot. The altar crucifix survives as the processional cross still in use.
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An undated photo of what looks to be a festal vespers in the 1950s or early 1960s. The cantors’ stools are new, and are still in use today.
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A drone’s eye view?! In front of the cantors’ stools is the choir ambo which is still in use.
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Above and below, scenes from pontifical high Mass in the 1940s on St Edmund’s day, the community’s patronal feast. Abbot Sylvester Mooney was abbot from 1929 to 1969.

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Lastly for this instalment, Archbishop King, Bishop of Portsmouth, ordaining Fr Simon McNally (no longer with us) to the priesthood in 1962.

In the next instalment, l’avènement du Conseil!

6 thoughts on “A changing church – part 2

  1. The arrangement with the baldacchino is lovely. What happened to it (or must we wait for the next instalment?)?

    And look at that folded chasuble at Fr McNally’s ordination! Wonderful!

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    1. Salve! No, it was not then a processional crucifix. It was permanently attached to the altar. After the 1978 re-ordering it was made into a processional crucifix, remounted on a squared column of brass, and which we still use today. Our processional cross back then was a smaller, more delicate silver affair, which we now use in the chapel at Winchester College.
      Pax.

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