Monday, October 24, 2011

Monastic Peace

At least two or three times a week, I walk the three miles from my flat to the centre of Canterbury, and one of the greatest pleasures of this ritual is stopping to eat lunch in the ruins of Christchurch Priory.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful spots in the entire city, attached to the magnificent Christ Church Cathedral.  After Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, much of the priory fell into disuse and decay.  However, some of the cloisters remain intact, and if one takes the time, he will be privileged with some very unique, out-of-the-way sights.  Of course, most tourists look only at the obvious, quickly checking off their lists of main attractions--the site of Beckett's tomb, the Black Prince's sepulchre, etc.  This leaves the old monastic ruins, for the most part, supremely tranquil.

My favourite place is directly behind the Cathedral Library and Archives, in what was once the monk's dormitory.  Now, all that is left are the outer walls, quite impressive in and of themselves, and evenly spaced throughout the grassy sward that blankets the interior are the remains of the stout pillars that once held up the vaulted cellar.  They are now each surrounded by a lovely little garden of flowers and herbs.  Often, after finishing my lunch, I remain there for over an hour, contemplating the loveliness of the setting and meditating on what God teaches us through such beauty.  The sounds of the city are replaced by the rustle of trees in the breeze, the masses of tourists by chirping birds and scampering squirrels.  But above all, there is a sense of supreme peace that pervades all within the protecting walls.  I believe that the spirit of prayer and contemplation once observed here by countless Benedictine brothers lives on inside these sacred precincts.  I truly never feel closer to God than when I sit in the quiet of a monastery, and Christchurch Priory, though it may stand in ruins, is truly a gem among monasteries.