The Benedictines

THE BENEDICTINES

St. Benedict was born A.D. 480, not far from Rome. While still a young man he went to live in seclusion, at Subiaco where others attracted by his way of life joined him. Subsequently they moved to Monte Cassino, where St. Benedict wrote his famous Rule and eventually died. Benedictine influence spread throughout Europe, indeed St. Benedict is the Patron Saint of Europe and the Order he founded is one of the oldest in the Catholic Church.

In A.D. 597 St. Augustine and his forty Benedictine brethren landed at Ebbsfleet, on the shores of Kent, and so commences the long story of the English Benedictines which, broadly speaking, was one of success for a thousand years. It produced its harvest of saints, Anselm, Bede, Boniface, Paulinus, Wilfrid and Wulstan among them. The names of their foundations are set in English history, the more notable being Canterbury, Bath, Chester, Durham, Glastonbury, Tewkesbury and Worcester where still exists the oldest known copy of St. Benedict’s Rule. Most famous of all was Westminster where building or rebuilding never ceased from the Conquest to the Reformation. But by the time of Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1607, its community had almost ceased to exist.

Only one monk survived and he was in prison. His name was Fr. Sigebert Buckley and somehow he managed to secretly affiliate two young men into his historic community, and from these the Benedictines at Parbold can trace a direct descent.

Those two monks, later joined by others went to live at Dieulouard, in Lorraine where they thrived, not as Englishmen professed into a foreign monastery, but as a community distinctly English. Known as St. Laurences, they had a church, cloister, school, farm and brewery. St. Laurence’s held a particular attraction for Lancashire men and there was one period in the 18th century when its entire community came from between the Mersey and the Lune. Between 1600 – 1900 Lancashire gave 279 monks to the Order of St. Benedict, many of whom took the Mission Oath and returned to help sustain persecuted Catholicism at home.

The present parishes of Brindle, Hindley, Ormskirk and Warrington owe much to those monk-missionaries of old.

Even in pre-Reformation times when Lancashire was very thinly populated there were small Benedictine foundations at Lytham, Penwortham and Up Holland.

St. Laurence’s flourished at Dieulouard until the French Revolution. In 1793 there occurred a most violent upheaval and expulsion. Its last Prior, Richard Marsh, O.S.B. (1762-1843), of Hindley, swam the River Moselle to escape the terror. He led his homeless community over ten years of wandering, staying briefly in Shropshire, in Birkenhead, Liverpool, Prescot and for about four months at Parbold Hall before finally settling at Ampleforth, in Yorkshire. Parbold seemed a splendid location and the house, just below the crown of Parbold Hill, commanded a panoramic view. There were sizeable Catholic congregations nearby who might have been expected to support its school and the question is often asked why did the Benedictines leave Parbold for Ampleforth? Fr. Cuthbert Almond, O.S.B. gives this answer’ “To take root it was necessary to be first possessed of the ground. This was the difficulty. Parbold Hall no more belonged to the monks than Vemon Hall, Scholes or the Tranmere Hotel had done. It was a roof to shelter but not where one could burrow or build”. Furthermore Prior Marsh himself was anxious to rid himself of his responsibility and go on the mission.

A Benedictine priest remained to serve the mission at Wrightington Hall, under the patronage of the Dicconson family and Wrightington was a Benedictine parish until the final decade of the 19th century. Other missions were maintained by the Benedictines at Park Hall, Chamock Richard (1720-1751), Ormskirk (1732), Standish (1741), Bamber Bridge (1780), Croston (1804-1818), Scarisbrick (1824) and Leyland (1845). The Secular clergy served Burscough (1700) and Mawdesley (1831). It was on the high tide of the Catholic Revival that the Ainscough brothers decided that Parbold ought to have its own church and in view of the foregoing it is not surprising that they wrote to Abbot Clifton, O.S.B. “We and our families have had a long connection with the Benedictines; indeed our Father and Mother scarcely knew any other priests, and we should, we feel, be fulfilling their wishes as well as our own, if we can secure the new mission to be served by the Benedictines.”