LAMBING RUNS IN HARMONY
WITH PASCHAL PREPARATION
Ora et labora - pray and work - is the motto of the monks of St. Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire and at springtime their manual work runs in harmony with Paschal preparations. In the hours between regular devotions they are busy with the lambing season on their small monastery farm, making sure the new arrivals survive and flourish. It’s a labour of love for the Benedictines who look after a flock of about 30 rare breed Wiltshire Horn sheep as well as chickens and numerous colonies of honey bees.
“In lambing time, we bring the ewes into the barn and check on their enclosure hour by hour,” said the Abbot, Right Reverend Dom Cuthbert Brogan. “We check on them early in the morning and late at night to make sure the new-born are suckling properly, and we also deliver new lambs.”
It is a poignant coincidence that during this springtime of attending carefully to the arrival of new life in the abbey, the community also prepares spiritually for their personal renewal in the Resurrection of Our Lord at Easter. The spring Equinox, March 21, also marks the Feast of St Benedict, and is a time during which postulants become novices and first vows are taken.
“Whether it be lambing or new brothers beginning their time, or monks taking their first vows, for us the spring and the Easter season is about leaving behind the darkness and dullness of winter and coming into radiant freshness,” said Abbot Brogan. Monastic life was first established in 1895 as part of the largest Congregation of the Benedictine Confederation, which includes St Benedict’s own monasteries in Italy as its members.
As well as manual work within the enclosure of the monastery, life at the abbey has a special focus on beauty in the liturgy and the chanting of the office. The liturgy is celebrated facing East, in Latin, and sung to Gregorian Chant. “This is a strict tradition and a central part of our life,” the Abbot explained. The pendulum swings between the various duties, with the monks moving between prayer (signalled by the ringing of a bell) and work on the farm, in the apiary, the shop, guesthouse, craft bookbindery and publishing and printing house.
There are also the daily duties of cooking, cleaning and administration. Due to a high reputation for beauty and depth in its liturgical tradition and music, people travel from far and wide to attend the Sunday Conventual Mass at the Abbey.
“I come to this place because in the silent beauty of the sacred music, in the peace and reverence in the Holy Mass, my heart is literally lifted to heaven. I experience a deep joy whenever I come here,” said Karen from Cheshire.
Others visit the Shrine of St Joseph on site which is cared for by the monks, and still more make a springtime visit to watch the lambs leaping in the fields.