When the Roman Catholic nuns of Stanbrook Abbey arrived in Worcestershire in 1838, re-introducing monastic life after an absence of 300 years, they were aware that they were moving into ‘a part of England which has been called the Benedictine country par excellence‘. From the 8th to the 16th centuries, from their Anglo-Saxon foundations through to the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII, Benedictine communities exerted an enormous influence over all aspects of life in the Severn and Avon valleys. The trail is an invitation to explore this past.
But of course monasticism is not just a medieval curiosity. In the words of historian and monk Dom David Knowles (1896-1974), ‘underneath the changes of the outward garb of monastic life, its aim and its ideal have continued without change’. When the Sisters at Stanbrook re-located to North Yorkshire in 2010 we moved into our new home here at Mucknell Abbey where, on land which once provided support for the monks of Worcester Cathedral, we try to live out our calling as followers of Christ under the rule of St Benedict in a twenty-first century context.
The trail is made up of 7 active, worshipping communities – 1 cathedral, 5 parish churches and 1 monastery – each of which was founded, or re-founded, under a Benedictine impulse.
The entire route is approximately 55 miles long, and is only meant to be suggestive, so pilgrims might want to draw up their own, more manageable itinerary. Various travel options, including a more detailed map, can be found under ‘Locations and Accessibility’.
Wulfstan was born c.1008 in Warwickshire into a devout Christian family. He was educated at the abbeys at Evesham and Peterborough, and in his mid-20s joined the household of Brihtheah, bishop of Worcester, as a clerk. He was later ordained to the priesthood and served a parish in Gloucestershire. But despite the offer of more lucrative appointments he decided to explore a growing call to the religious life, which – unusually – both his parents had already embraced.
After being received as a novice at St Mary’s Priory, Worcester, he pursued his vocation with great diligence, setting for himself high standards of monastic observance. Over time he served as novice master, cantor and sacristan, and in c.1055 was chosen as its prior. He is known to have promoted two successive movements for the reform and revitalization of monastic life, including a strict observance of the Rule of St Benedict, and under his leadership, first as prior and later as titular abbot, the community flourished.
In c.1077, to further encourage reform, he established the first of a series of confraternities with other religious houses in his diocese, including the abbeys at Evesham and Pershore. These prayer brotherhoods later came to embrace Tewkesbury Abbey and the two priories at Malvern, the largest of which was founded with Wulfstan’s encouragement.
In 1062 he was elected as bishop of Worcester, a position he held for thirty years. During this time he set about re-building Worcester Cathedral, as well as launching a programme of church building, both on his estates and elsewhere.
But it is as a shepherd of his people that he was revered and remembered. No less a figure than William the Conqueror – whose confidence as an English bishop he retained – acknowledged that his first priority was the pastoral care of those in his diocese, to whom he preached the need for peace, reconciliation and moral regeneration. The image of the ‘progress’ was inspired by surviving accounts of him travelling through his see on horseback, chanting the psalms with those in his retinue.
When Wulfstan died in 1095 he was the last of the Anglo-Saxon bishops and, in the words of the historian Eadmer, the ‘sole survivor of the old Fathers of the English people’. He was buried in his cathedral, and his shrine – next to that of St Oswald – was a place of pilgrimage until its destruction during the Reformation. He was canonised by Pope Innocent III in 1203.
Worcester Cathedral,Worcester, WR1 2LA
Open 7.30am to 6pm every day
Great Malvern Priory, St Church, Malvern, WR14 2AY
Open 9am to 5pm every day
Little Malvern Priory,Wykewayne, Malvern, WR14 2XD
Open during daylight hours every day
Tewkesbury Abbey, Church Street, Tewkesbury, GL20 5RZ
Open Mon-Sat 8.30am to 5.30pm (7.30am- on Wed & Fri); Sunday, 7.30am-6pm
Evesham Abbey [The Bell Tower, St Lawrence & All Saints], Evesham, WR11 4BG
All Saints’ is open 9am to 5pm; St Lawrence’s is open daily
Pershore Abbey, Church Walk, Pershore, WR10 1BB
Open 8am to 5.30pm daily
Mucknell Abbey,Mucknell Farm Lane, Stoulton, WR7 4RB
Visitors are welcomed to attend our daily Offices and Eucharist (see Timetable for more details)
We haven’t as yet worked out the best routes on foot between these sites, but in the meantime the OS Explorer Series – no. 204 (Worcester & Droitwich), no. 205 (Stratford-upon-Avon & Evesham) and no. 109 (Malvern Hills & Bredon Hill) is probably the best place to start.