The Monks of Papa Stronsay: Orkney, Scotland

Following on in the theme of faith lifestyles, here is a short documentary featuring a monastic family local to myself…on the fabulous Orkney Isle of Papa Stronsay…

Papa Stronsay 1

Papa Stronsay 2

Excerpt from a documentary series featuring the Transalpine Redemptorist monks of Papa Stronsay, Scotland – a congregation of traditionalist Catholic Fathers and Brothers of both Eastern and Western Rite from all over the world. The documentary was filmed in September 2003 and originally aired on Channel 4 (UK) in 2004.

The congregation was founded in 1988 by Fr Michael Mary and Fr Anthony Mary on the advice of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Their aim was to found a new Redemptorist congregation which observed the original Rule of Saint Alphonsus and ignored the reforms adopted by modern Redemptorists following the Second Vatican Council.

The congregation moved from the Isle of Sheppy in Kent, England, to Papa Stronsay in 1999. The island was considered ideal because of its seclusion from the world and ancient connection with the monastic tradition. As well as producing their own newspaper, the monks raise their own cattle and sheep and they produce most of their own food.

For more information visit:


I, Hugh Gilbert, O.S.B, by the grace of God Bishop of Aberdeen, decree that the community known as the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer, be erected as a Religious Institute of Diocesan right in accordance with c 579 of the Code of Canon Law 1983. The Institute will be subject to all other applicable norms of the said code and governed by the statutes of the said community previously approved by the Holy See.

Given this day 15th August in the year of Our Lord 2012


The Church at the South Pole

I have recently been reading again [did not manage to finish it the first time] a delightful book entitled The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer. The majority of my husband’s and my prayer practise revolves around this ever-deepening prayer, only 12 words long. It is a transformative ever evolving and deepening experience. I have posted several times on this Prayer of the Heart which is the one prayer monks and nuns of all traditions, and especially the Orthodox branch of the Christian Faith use silently throughout the day. I digress….

Towards the end of the book I came across something I had not known and wonder if many of you do…there is a church at the South Pole! Run by the Russian Orthodox Church it is a delightful church and I have found a small clip about it on Youtube.


The Brethren: Most Northern Monks: Russian Orthodox

Gaining glimpses into the everyday practical lives of people following their faith around the world offer us much in terms of revelation, illumination, education and hope. We can realise that we share common difficulties, common hopes and dreams as well as concerns and fears. Earlier in my blog I posted several posts [now in Archives] concerning one of my own  very favourite examples of living faith, Father Lazarus at the St Antony’s monastery in Egypt, who chooses to live, work and pray in the remote caves high up behind the monastery that St Antony himself inhabited. What is it about/in certain of us that chooses to seek and listen to God in these inauspicious and often challenging geographical places, to seek that perfect solitude within where we may meet God? Whilst this blog is entitled Living in the Monastery without walls, and describes those of us who live outside formal enclosure, yet follow a monastic lifestyle… the title can also be used to describe the understanding that even when enclosed, the inner freedom of the life means that to the adept no walls exist anyway. For it is an inner freedom that we all seek and hopefully find regardless of our living conditions. And so, whether we are monks living in the world, or monks that are enclosed, the experiences we have are similar and we can find a common thread that links us in our ever present prayer life.  I feel inspired to offer various examples of choices of faith led lifestyle, some familiar, some not…and hope that you will all find something new in these offerings, that you gain something from for yourself. Stephanie


THE BRETHREN is a documentary about the monks of the world’s northernmost monastery — the Trifonov Pechengsky monastery located in Kolsky Peninsula, Russia. It was Russia’s Northern outpost a few centuries ago. Later it was destroyed and abolished, and now it is being restored. The brethren of this monastery is small: 4 hieromonks and 2 monks. They are young, and every one of them has had his personal way to monastic ordination. All their life stories are nontrivial and even paradoxical. They are attempting not only to restore the buildings of the monastery but to build a temple in their hearts. The film features unique footage of inner life of the monastery.

Watchmen of the Night: The Monks of St Mary Magdelene Monastery: Catholic

Here is a documentary about the monks of St Mary Magdalene Monastery. I personally find this one deeply soothing, the chant sends me into the sublime regions beyond time almost instantly…and I also found the interviews with the monks themselves and how their families reacted to their vocation very interesting and relevant to some of the reactions I too have experienced.

This video is 52 minutes long, so take the time to luxuriate! I am posting this towards the weekend so that people have a chance to really sit down and enjoy its peace and spotlight into a life that revolves around prayer and contemplation.

The Matter of Food and Fasting: Rules…Are Made to Be Broken [Or Sidestepped Anyway!]

Welcome to my reader from Bahrain, visiting two days ago.

Fish Pond

I would just like to deal with food here and how the rules about fasting were ‘manipulated’ and carefully ‘interpreted’ so that the monks of old stuck by letter if not quite the rule of their Church law. It is for me a wonderful affirmation of human nature, that no matter what rules are laid down, there will be those who see them as a challenge to work around. This unpredictable inventive imagination of humankind is what gets it through its scrapes and challenges and ensures our very survival; it is an essential quality of survival. It is the same impetus in war prisoners who thought up and then carried out the tunnel escapes, the ingenuity of men who created the conception of how to get to the moon, and the driving force of someone I knew of who was the only prisoner to escape from Colditz  5 times. Even his German prison guards admired his ingenuity in the end!  But generally this uncontrollable inner drive of mankind  annoys and frustrates those in power at any given time who think they have covered every conceivable angle in their dictates, only to find them being flouted at almost every turn in practise!

Food is the very fuel that drives our engines that we call bodies. It is essential to our survival. Too much or too little of it kills us. But it is also a social activity and one that has all kinds of associations with it for us, bonding, caring, nurturing, family, comfort, love. It is a complex need of our lives, tied in with all sorts of emotional triggers. This is why during war, so much is done to ensure that people have the emotional satisfaction of food as well as its physical quantity and looking in wartime cookbooks one can see the ingenious substitutes that enabled people psychologically to feel they were not suffering too much. ‘Spirits’ need to be fed as well as bodies!

In the days before supermarkets though, there were natural times of the year for lean food supplies and these do tie in with religious fasting times. In the religious sense these fasting periods were proscribed, but even the ordinary folk would have been limited at these times. Fasting is a healthy activity when conducted properly, and has always been considered an aid to spiritual development as well by most religions. The big Christmas food feast which we still generally enjoy today goes back to times when a period of lack was about to ensue, so it was almost the final big feast up, ‘eat as much as you can before you have to go without.’

In medieval times, only two meals were eaten in a day. The Church forbid eating animals on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and throughout Lent and Advent. This equates to half a year. In Lent eggs are also forbidden. According to the rule of St Benedict, monks were not supposed to eat the meat of four-legged animals at all. However men living at that time felt that… St Benedict lived ‘a long time ago’ and over the next 800 years since his passing, monks across Christendom found ways of circumventing his rule. The Rule states that they should not eat meat in the refectory. Consequently many monasteries built a second dining room, called the misericord [place of mercy], where meat-eating can take place! Also, although eating the flesh of four-legged animals is forbidden [in the refectory], there is nothing in the Rule specifically against eating offal.

Realising that this is not wholly within the spirit of the Rule, and realising he cannot stand in the way of ‘progress’, Benedict X11 [Pope between 1334-42], suggests a compromise. As long as half the monks eat in the refectory, the remainder can bolt to the misericord and gorge on whatever meat they choose, providing it is not a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday or a day in Advent or Lent. Those who remain in the refectory must not eat the meat of quadrupeds but can eat fowl and other meaty ingredients, such as offal. On non meat days everyone must eat together in the refectory and observe non meat rules. The Benedictine monks at Westminster even managed to justify and wangle bacon. Pope Benedict’s ‘compromise’ means that a monk may only eat in the misericord for a maximum of 86 days per year and so monks are rather keen for their turn to come round. First course is nearly always beef, the second course normally consists of more beef plus three further roasted meats, veal, mutton, pork or goose. Lamb is eaten in late spring, boiled pork in the winter and at other times of the year mutton is served. At supper, only one meat dish is served.

Fish is big in the monks diet. Everyday the refectory serves fried, poached or baked fish served at dinner. For supper only shellfish such as cockles or whelks are served. Some of the largest fish ponds are owned by monasteries, Gracious Pond in Surrey, was constructed by the abbot of Chertsey in 1308 and extends to over 35 acres, whilst the ponds at Frensham [Surrey] extend to over a hundred acres. Where once the monks fished at Frensham, now people access these ponds for leisure fishing, perhaps unaware of their history.

Frensham Fishponds

Benedict XII was a reforming pope who did not carry out the policies of his predecessor. He chose to make peace with Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV and as far as possible came to terms with the Franciscans, who were then at odds with the Roman See. He tried to curb the luxuries of the monastic orders, though without much success. He also ordered the construction of the Palais des Papes in Avignon. He spent most of his time working on questions of theology. He rejected many of the ideas developed by John XXII. In this regard, he promulgated an apostolic constitution, Benedictus Deus, in 1336. This dogma defined the Church’s belief that the souls of the departed go to their eternal reward immediately after death, as opposed to remaining in a state of unconscious existence until the Last Judgment. Though some claim that he campaigned against the Immaculate Conception, this is far from clear. He engaged in long theological debates with other noted figures of the age, such as William of Ockham and Meister Eckhart.

Benedict X11

This is the last of my posts on this site about Pilgrimage. I have set up another blog which, if you are interested in you can find a link  on the side of this site, entitled Pilgrimage and Its History.  I want to concentrate heavily in that new blog on all sorts of Pilgrimage and sacred sites, focusing especially on my specialised knowledge in Medieval and Tudor History. It will cover sacred sites, lots of photographs, as well as history about anchoresses, hermits, priories, and cathedrals, and I think the new platform will enable me to go far deeper into that than this site can allow me to do. Living In The Monastery Without Walls will continue to be dedicated to mysticism. Hope to see some of you over on the new site if you fancy a walk in the past, that led to where we are today…

Walsingham: The Original Shrine and Priory

Firstly a big welcome to the Sisters  now reading this blog, that I was informed of yesterday by another mystical sister of mine…you know who you all are! Knowing you are there sustains and strengthens me, please keep me in your prayers. x

I have enjoyed the Shrine, the beautiful church and all that it has to offer. But I also want to get as close to the original Shrine as possible. I need to walk where the Canons walked, and where Catherine of Aragon offered her prayers and wept her tears. I make my way to the heavy wooden doors that lead me into the Abbey Gardens and firstly just wander through their little museum, full of curiosities and an unassuming little gift shop staffed by women who know this place inside out and are bursting with love and pride for the original Abbey they are custodians of. The entrance is the building on the right of this photo.



And what history seeps from this place, how many prayers and petitions have been offered up, all resonating to this day for those who can sense them. The priory of Walsingham was founded in around 1153, and was a small priory of Augustine canons. ‘Canons Regular’ are ordained priests living as a community and following the Augustine rule, or regula, as opposed to monks who are lay people, although both take vows. Augustine canons follow the teaching of St Augustine, the theologian, scholar and philosopher who was bishop of Hippo in North Africa in the 4th century. According to St Augustine, a canon regular lives in community, he lives the life of a religious cleric, but he also follows the example of the Apostles by preaching, teaching and the administration of the sacraments or by giving hospitality to pilgrims and travellers and feeding the sick. In England they were known as Black Canons, as their usual dress was a white habit with a black cloak.  In 1494 there was a Prior and sixteen canons. Erasmus who visited Walsingham in 1512 and 1524 was ordained as a Canon Regular as a young man.

In its glory, this is what the Priory looked like.


I walk through the entry gate and walking a short distance through snowdrop gardens I catch sight of the ruin to my left through the trees and stand shocked. I am overwhelmed. It is vast. I am alone, just how I like it…no crowds of visitors and the peace descends in this beautiful garden. This was not a peaceful place in its time though.


     The ruin above is known as The Arch, and it is formerly the East Window of the Priory. It is to the left of this window that the little house of Nazareth stood. The very early wooden chapel was highly venerated and it was kept in its original state right up until the Reformation, with a second stone chapel built round it to protect it. When the original site in the Abbey Gardens was finally excavated in 1961 the sooty traces of its burning were visible, along with the foundations of its surrounding chapel. In all the buzz that is Walsingham, here is a haven of true peace, and some obviously remember its origins. For me this photo below is the most poignant of all that I have from Walsingham. This lady on her knees, lost in prayer at the site of the original Shrine, and there she stayed for a long long time oblivious of time, space or surroundings. This is where I will offer prayers too for Catherine of Aragon. This is where all those pilgrims came. Of all the images I have of Walsingham, this one of this woman is the one that always comes to mind. I was quite a long way away from her, I took this on zoom.


King Henry 111 visited several times and gifted candles, oak for building, and a gift of money to make a golden crown for the statue. His son King Edward 1st visited Walsingham twelve times and came repeatedly for the Feast of the Purification on 2nd February. As I walk round the grounds I am truly shocked to my core of the destruction. I feel here, more than anywhere other ruins I have visited elsewhere, [and I have visited many] the horror and the scale of the destruction of the Reformation. Its sheer violence and desecration of all that people and priests alike loved so much, it was more than destruction, it was in a very real sense a vicious attack, personal, spiritual, a complete disdain for all that was beautiful, sacred and valued. For the first time ever I saw Henry in the plain light of day, away from the romance that has been attached to his history, away from the legend…just bare, starkly brutal and a vicious dictator. I feel great anguish, real pain, hot salty tears at what was done. I am not sure which dimension of time I am standing in anymore, whether I am in the now or the way back then.

I do not wish to disturb this sole woman at prayer so I walk round the perimeter passing the ruins of the West Tower on my right as I do so.


I approach what was the Refectory, which dates from 1300. The Prior and Canons and any important visitors would have dined at ‘high table’ at the eastern end, seated like we can still see in the arrangement today at the Oxbridge colleges and the Inns of Court. The modern gravel path follows one side of the cloister which linked the church to the refectory. The household would have eaten one hot meal a day, immediately after mass, before which everyone fasted. The canons, more likely their lay brothers would have made cheese, kept vegetable and herb gardens, and freshwater fish in ponds fed from the river. I will actually detail food in a separate post as it is very interesting how varied the medieval diet actually was, and how the religious houses ingeniously  ‘got around’ the technicalities of fasting days!

The Refectory



Originally called the Undercroft [now often called the Crypt] the next part beside the Refectory that I enter dates from the 1300’s and gives us the only real idea of the enclosed space of the Priory. I love it. The historians are no longer sure what this was used for, maybe they suggest, an ante chamber or waiting room for private apartments.



I then have a long walk down to the Well Gardens, Monks’ Bath and Wishing Wells, with the ruins of the East Window on my left. The stone bath and adjacent twin wells here are mentioned throughout history from the Pynson Ballad onwards. Somewhere near here was the chapel of St Lawrence where pilgrims made offerings as they did at the Holy House and the high altar of the Priory. Erasmus describes being shown a relic of St Peter’s finger joint there. The chapel is described as being near the wells, at the first place Lady Richeldis had first tried to construct the holy House before it was miraculously transported.

The water here, originating from a spring has always been a main attraction, and then just as now, pilgrims would take away water in tiny flasks called ampulla, which could be attached to their clothing. The water here survived the destruction of the Shrine and people continued to revere the water from the wells as sacred and to use them as wishing wells. [The Shrine water well in the Anglican church is part of the original Saxon well in the village.]



East Window taken from the Wells looking back towards it.


Close up side views of The East Window showing plinths which one held statues.



Photos (C) Stephanie

An Interview With A Trappist Monk On Prayer.

This is a very interesting interview with a Trappist Monk, why he became a monk, what he does and how he does it. The video is about 44 minutes long, so give yourself time to watch it…and enjoy. Love his sense of humour when he talks about “chip monks”!