November 2023 Digest - Mucknell Abbey
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November 2023 Digest

Welcome back to another month here at Mucknell Abbey. As I write, we’re being treated to one of those beautifully clear late autumn/early winter days, with some high wispy cloud and bright sun – and frost! Watching the changing seasons is one of many things I love about being here. Our very regulated life seems to make these changes more noticeable: as we move from autumn equinox to winter solstice, both Vespers and Lauds are gradually envelopped by the darkening mornings and evenings. Throughout, though, we continue to welcome the presence – the light – of Christ among us every day as we worship. Read on to see what else has been happening here during November.

Estate Days

From the 15th to the 18th, it was all hands on deck to get on with all manner of tasks out on the estate, with the help of some wonderfully energetic and generous guests. We also welcomed Virginia as an Alongsider at the start of the week; fortunately she enjoys outdoor work!

One of the main tasks of the week was tree planting, always done around this time of year when the trees are dormant. We had some 400 trees and shrubs to plant out; our ways of doing this have evolved over the past few years, and so with two teams working on planting, it only took a couple of days to get them all in the ground. Species planted so far are: Alder, Hornbeam, Oak, Field Maple, Small Leafed Lime, Dogwood, Dog Rose, Guelder Rose, Hawthorn, Hazel, Rowan, Gorse, Holly, Silver Birch and Lebanese Oak. These are mostly being planted to replace the ash trees we had to have taken out due to Ash dieback.

Our much-loved old oak tree, in the north-west corner of the estate, recently dropped a very large limb. Over two or three days various of us helped with chopping the limb up and moving it to other places on the estate where it could be useful; some of the brush went to fill a (small) trench, and some of the larger pieces were bought under cover with a view to future woodworking projects.

Slightly closer to the building was some work applying manure to the flower beds outside the guest wing, and tending the hedge on our eastern boundary.

A couple of different teams also worked on strimming and tidying the Garth (our graveyard), and relocating a pile of wood left over from previous Estate work.

We were very blessed to have Domini, one of our guests, on photo duty during the week – as well as working, of course! Most of the above photos are ones that she took, as are the two below: a panorama of the Abbey, and a beautiful black and white image of the old oak tree. The image at the top of this post is one of her photos too.

Welcoming a new Oblate

It was great to have Fr. Sacha with us on Saturday 11th to make his Oblation; we also met a few of his friends and family who joined us for the simple but moving service, and then for a festive lunch afterwards too.

A new icon: Benedict and Scholastica

Those who have been in our Oratory in the last month or so may have noticed a new icon hanging behind the altar. This was written by our Br. Michaël over the course of several months, and was blessed and installed on the feast of All Saints, 1st November. The first of the two pictures below was taken in the icon studio, and the second in our Oratory; together they show how different an icon can look in different lights:

I invited Br. Michaël to say a bit about the icon and its creation:

“This new icon of Benedict and Scholastica is an Abbatial “commission” which slotted itself in my rather long waiting list (even the Abbot had to wait 2 and a bit years). The Abbot and I were quite keen to have both St Benedict and St Scholastica for our chapel; highlighting our mixed community. The existing icons of St Benedict and St Scholastica I managed to find didn’t quite fit what I had envisaged and wanted to communicate with this icon. I have drawn inspiration from Italo-Byzantine frescos as well as neo-Byzantine frescos and the never ending, in my opinion, treasure trove of Cretan-style iconography.  

I wanted this icon to have St Benedict and St Scholastica in a scene together rather than by themselves. After much thought and prayer I ended up representing the last meeting between the two saints (according to the traditional account found in the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great). I therefore chose to emulate the dynamic of an Annunciation; having St Benedict coming down from his monastery on Monte Cassino (the mountain and the building seen behind the wall on the icon) bringing the beginning of his rule to Scholastica who, according to tradition, lived in a hermitage (the building behind St Scholastica on the icon) in the foothills of Monte Cassino. In fidelity to the story in the ‘Dialogues’, St Benedict is middle-aged while St Scholastica is of a more advanced age. According to St Gregory the Great, Scholastica died the day after their last meeting.”

As we move towards the watching and waiting of Advent, the anticipation of God among us as the Word made flesh, be assured of our prayers, and of the love of God, who, in the words of Malcolm Guite, comes to “Unfold for us the mystery of grace / And make a womb of all this wounded world”.