Not dead yet

It is has not been a year of abundant blogging, and certainly not recently. Easter at Douai is a busy time if one is simultaneously sacristan, cantor and shepherd: lots of liturgical services to set up for, sometimes single-handedly; lots to sing at those same services, and to practise for naturally; and it is lambing season.

The last lamb popped out during vespers on Friday, the reluctant mother Hildegard finally conceding to Mother Nature. She gave birth to this year’s only single lamb, Ambrose (Samson, though now a single, had a sister at birth who sadly only lasted a day). Our much reduced flock of six ewes has had ten lambs, which is a more easily manageable number. Of those ten, eight are rams and only two ewes. Their father, Spitfire, has not interrupted the ewes’ tendency to produce rams. Is this a subtle accommodation to the cloister in the domain of which they live?

Since the lambs tend to be popular, please allow me to introduce them to you, in birth order.

First up is Samson, whose sister Delilah seemed not to feed well and quickly died. This is from a couple of weeks ago, when he was under his mother as she slurped some moist mineral lick, and had copped a drip for his poor timing.


Born the same day were Romulus (l) and Remus, who together with Samson make up the troublemaking element of the flock. Here, pictured on Easter Sunday, they look the picture of innocence.


At the beginning of Holy Week, in quick succession, four lambs were born, confusing both shepherds and mothers for a time, as to which lamb was which ewe’s. Nature worked it out in the end. So Thelma found herself with two ram lambs, James (l) and Thomas…


While one of the three veteran, unnamed, mothers found herself with a mixed pair, Jeremy (seated) and Rachel (seen here shortly after birth, with James and Thomas in the background, adding to the confusion).


On Easter Sunday another mixed pair was born, John and Magdalen, born to the nearly all-white Bianca.


And on Friday, finally, Hildegard bore Ambrose.


The crew have shown themselves tending either to sleeping or playing to the camera.

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Don’t forget to pray for persecuted Christians.

Happy feast day to us!

What with all the distractions of unexpectedly good episcopal appointments this year in England, and the debate about Catholic, especially clerical, bloggers, and the crisis in the Ukraine, it may understandably escpae the notice of most members of the Church that today Benedictines celebrate the Solemnity of the Transitus (or Passing) of St Benedict.

Below is a translation of the Latin hymn set for this feast, which you otherwise might never see.

Shout, all ye people! Let your measured praises
Ring through the churches solemnly and sweetly;
On this feast day Benedict ascended
Heaven’s high summit.

He, when his youthful joyous years were blooming,
Yet in his boyhood left his native dwelling,
Seeking concealment hid within a cavern
Lonely and silent.

There amid nettles, rigid thorns and briars
Won he the battle over youth’s enticement,
Nurse of pollution; then he wrote a Holy Rule
of blest living.

Thy brazen image, infamous Apollo,
soon hath he smitten; burnt the grove of Venus,
Then to the Baptist, on the sacred mountain,
Established a chapel.

Now doth he witness happily in heaven
Seraphim, leading thongs of shining angels,
While he refreshes faithful hearts of who hear him
With living waters.

Praise to the Father, to the Sole-begotten,
And to Thee, always with the Twain co-equal,
Fostering Spirit; One only Godhead
Through all ages.

“Measured praises” is the sure sign of a hymn that originates in the noble simplicity of the Roman rite. Moreover, the tenor of all St Benedict’s Rule is one of measured common sense. In the midst of all his moderation, St Benedict had no time for pagan idols, the shrines of which he overturned in a moment. With the Church beset by a neo-pagan secularism, she needs even more the quiet witness of faithful, godly monks and nuns.

Please remember Douai Abbey in your prayers, and all English Benedictines, and also the brethren at Silverstream Priory.

May God, who has begun a good work in you, bring it to fulfillment, through Christ our Lord.

The Passing to the next life of St Benedict

The Passing to the next life of St Benedict


Birth interrupts blogging

A blog post has had to go on hold for a while due to the birth of our first lamb of the year.

Born in brilliant, blessed sunshine this morning was Basil, named in honour of our own Dom Basil Gwydir, whose centenary of death we keep this year. He was one of several of our monks who served as military chaplains in the Great War. He died when the hospital ship, HMHS Rohilla, sank off Whitby on 30 October 1914, not long after the war had begun. It is said of Fr Basil that he remained below decks with sailors who were immobile and unable to escape, and so drowned with them.

Sinking of the Rohilla

Maiorem hac dilectionem nemo habet, ut animam suam ponat qui pro amicis suis. (John 15:13)

The new Basil is hale and hearty, and of full voice.


Shearing time!

This evening, muggy and threatening rain, my little flock was sheared. Not by me, though I helped with the worming, tagging, and dosing. Jack and Chris, two sturdy young bairns, did the honours. The flock clearly felt the relief of losing their heavy, hot coats.

Two quick pics. Jack and Chris hard at it:



A lovely pile of fleece for our oblate Teresa, who will use a goodly portion of it to make sleeping mats for the homeless.



Little Malcolm was glad when it was all over.


Lounging lambs

The cold still bites here in Royal Berkshire, but at least the sun has managed to put his hat on occasionally, and to lovely effect. That said, yesterday was mostly filled with flurries of snow flakes, and the daffodils are terribly confused.

One effect of the sunshine is to encourage a little ritual lambs are fond of indulging in. After joining in the feeding frenzy on barley and hay with the ewes, they like to have a little chill time and think on the eternal verities. And they like to do it together. Normally in the sun they would play, but in the recent bleak and freezing weather they prefer to act like solar cells, and soak up as much warmth as possible. It begins when a nice bed of strewn hay is found in full sun. A couple will settle, satisfactorily gorged for now, and other lambs decide that they have the right idea.



Quickly you have five settling in for some sun.



And soon there are six, as a couple of the early comers start warming to their task of… warming.



After some maternal intrusion and subsequent re-arrangement, they resettle to reveal the sun-and-slumber party has grown to eight.



Malcolm, the youngest, is very much his own lamb and sits off a little to the side, balancing community with independence… and sleep.



And looking back to the main assembly we find the other nine have finally settled together, Cher, the only girl among them, showing a suitable juvenile female disdain for boys.



And they shall stay till the next human diversion arrives; for now, I have become far too boring to notice.




An Easter Lamb

The Triduum is a busy time for a monk who is both sacristan and cantor. Unexpectedly, my shepherd’s hat was on today as well – a surprise lamb born today, Holy Saturday, in the midst of our first period of sunshine for quite a while (though it still be chilly).

Though untimely born, she is well-omened. So Frances is our Easter lamb. 11 live lambs this year, our best crop ever (and this after three dead at birth). Alas, only two of them girls. A weird year. Given North Korea’s excessively loud belligerence, perhaps the end of the world is nigh. Repent, while we have the light of life.

Below is the little girl and her young mother (barely over a year old herself, and rejected by her own mother last year), taken with shaky, frozen hand on a mobile phone.


Frances, the Easter lamb.

A novena and an omen

Yesterday afternoon two more lambs were born, which makes 7 in three days, and 9 in total – an ovine novena. Alas I only heard yesterday’s twins had arrived after dark, so after a fretful night I went out, after an earlier breakfast, through the sun-pierced fog and across crunching frost hoping for the best. And it was granted. A first time mother, Josephine, had given birth to a loud twin-set of lungs on legs. After her panic as I hoisted the lambs into the nursery pen, she followed us in and calmed down to the point of serenity. Having docked the lambs’ tails, and realised I had yet two more boys, I had a little play with the lads before they fed from mother while she wolfed down some barley (all photos should enlarge on being clicked): Feeding on all frontsIn light of the papal theme, it seemed apropos to name these two after the two most favoured papabili for the upcoming conclave. Our new albino boy, Angelo, declared approval: Angelo roarsHis brother, Marc, looked equally pleased, though he was forced to keep quiet by his more urgent need to lick his lips after downing a warming draught of mother’s best: Lip-licking goodWhen I let in the others, who were all waiting expectantly by the gate, there was a wonderful confusion of excited lambs escaping briefly the maternal leash, and of mothers frantically trying to put them back on the leash. All sorted in time: Meet and greetReturning this afternoon with some long-awaited mineral lick, it was lovely to see Cephas (at right) sitting near his grandmother with her boys Joseph and Benedict. Extended familyThe sunshine was very popular. Sunbathing was order of the day. Sonny and Cher slept through most of my visit: Sonny and CherJoseph and Benedict showed already signs of being scallywags, trespassing on other mothers and then sampling the mineral lick when they thought no one was looking: Sprung!The two eldest, Alban and Bartholomew, seemed lost in contemplation of the sun among the molehills, and I thought I might get quite close for a promo shot: ContentBut I was spotted and cast a disdainful look: SprungMeanwhile the new boys were finding their legs and learning the art of brotherly love: Brothers for lifeIn light of this preponderance of boys, 8 out of 9 lambs in total, surely there is a clear omen discernible. This is a near-certain sign that the next pope will be male. You heard it here first.