Over 1000 years of prayer
It is no exaggeration to say that St Benet’s Abbey has been a place of religious inspiration for well over 1000 years. This is a place of prayer whose origins go back to the 7th century. It has been a religious site for almost as long as the Diocese of Norwich has existed and rates as one of the country’s earliest Christian sites.
Isolation and solitude
When St Benet’s was at the height of its powers in the 12th and 13th century, it would have been a busy place. Not just the monks but peasants, landowners, pilgrims, noblemen and river traders would have frequented the various buildings which made up the Abbey. Today though, with so little left on site structurally, we have an insight into what first attracted religious men to this spot. The cut off nature of the site freed early inhabitants to experience the presence of God in the quality of the light, the huge skies and the abundance of nature.
Once the Benedictine monastery was established and the Rule of St Benedict adopted, the monks had firm guidance about how their lives should be led. Everything from how the Abbot was selected to how a monk should eat, drink and sleep, were outlined in the Rule, which was read every evening as the monks dined in silence. The monk’s life was one of self-sacrifice, privation and surrender to God. They renounced worldly pleasures, devoting themselves to worship at all times of the day and night. Talk and laughter were seen as ungodly.
Place of pilgrimage
Pilgrims traveled here, seeing it as part of their journey towards God. Though without a valued relic, St Benet’s was not as visited as places like Bury St Edmunds. Even today, the Bishop of Norwich, who arrives at the annual open air service on a Norfolk wherry, sees his journey as part of the religious event. And perhaps because of this service, modern day pilgrimages to St Benet's are becoming more common.
First Sunday in August
The summer service first took place in the church remains in 1939. After a pause during the Second World War, it became firmly established in the 1950’s. The church itself is still owned by the Diocese of Norwich and was never deconsecrated. In the late 1980s the Brethren of St Benet’s were established. This group of local men gather regularly to eat, prey and sing at St Benet’s Hall in Horning, celebrating and reflecting the commitment of their forebears. They also help organise the ecumenical service in August.
Today then, St Benet’s Abbey has renewed spiritual purpose. As a place of pilgrimage, of quiet reflection and of meditation, it remains important for Christians and is increasingly so for others of different persuasions.