"Why does 'green' have to look so Commie?"

Got that question in an email today along with this link to a story and video showcasing the move by the Benedictine Nuns of Stanbrook Abbey (a venerable, beautiful and historical monastery) to their new digs:

The community is used to upheaval, having moved five times in its 385-year history, including an 18-month stretch behind bars during the French revolution. The latest move was prompted by a need to down-size.

An overall decline in Catholic vocations has left the community with 22 professed nuns and two novices, who between them were responsible for the maintenance and overheads of their former home, a 20-acre site in Worcestershire with buildings by the 19th-century designer and architect Augustus Pugin, who designed the Palace of Westminster. It cost the nuns too much – in money and time – and impinged on their life of prayer and contemplation.

“There’s not a Gothic arch to be seen. It’s high-tech, which takes getting used to, but I do like the architecture.”

I must say, it is very plain and very utilitarian-looking. Benedictines are always practical, and certainly, the nuns needed to be freed up from the arduous upkeep of a monastery meant to house many more than 22 sisters (and it is an unqualified good that the handicapped have full access to the house) but part of being practical, to my way of thinking, is realizing that we human beings have hearts that crave beauty. Particularly for enclosed monastics, who spend all of their lives within the confines of their house and chapel and the grounds, the new place seems drearily stark and unjoyful, to me.

And Benedictines are supposed to be serious about their stewardship of the world, but it grieves me to see these nuns -who get all of their info from the addled MSM- buying so fully into this notion that the planet is being “destroyed,” which is a bit of a conceit to which I would hope they would not go along with.

Your thoughts on the new housing?

Related: Is Socialism Incompatible with Monasticism?

UPDATE: Recall that Stanbrook Abbey (along with the beautiful and thriving St. Cecelia’s Abbey in Ryde, Isle of Wight) was the model for Brede Abbey in Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, a book I cannot recommend enough! Godden, a Benedictine Oblate, spent several years living in the guest house of Stanbrook, researching the monastery and speaking with the nuns, in order to write her masterpiece. Her love for Stanbrook permeates her writing in the book. I think if she saw the new building, she would weep.

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  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    My thoughts is it is horrific. The other question is why did so many Vatican II Churches looked so commie

    As for green you can be green and still have a nice house. Your past article on the Bush Ranch that fits well so well into th Texas landscape is an example of that

  • kt

    I would have expected some active resistance of this new green gospel, which is meant to replace the real one. Shall we shut down all the drafty cathedrals next?

    [If history is any judge, one of two things will happen to the drafty cathedrals: either they will be stripped of their Christian decor and turned into secularist temples of "reason" and "enlightenment" or they will be turned into drafty mosques! -admin]

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  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

    My husband summed it up pretty well when I showed him still-shots and said “this is where they moved to, this is where they moved from.”

    Him: “That sucks. Why’d they move?”

    The new place looks a whole lot like my apartment, but with less pretties. (couldn’t they put a bunch of lovely paintings or something?)

  • Jason

    Not related, as far as I can tell, aside from the Pugin architecture and the Benedictine sisters moving out, but still interesting:

  • http://ranting-ricki.blogspot.com ricki

    I wonder the same thing – why does so much that is intended to be “green” have to be so ugly and depressing? Either it looks like the old Soviet Bloc construction, or it looks like some kind of slapped-together, pre-industrial thing – like the old “soddies” on the prairie (and not a few people became deeply depressed having to live in the “soddies”).

    I wonder if it’s a subconscious idea that we have to punish ourselves for existing. That we have to do “penance” for the “new sins” of having a carbon footprint and requiring resources to live.

    I have also seen some of the “new recession” mindset driving this – “The economy is such a mess we don’t deserve to have nice things.” Makes me sad.

  • Pam

    Anchoress,
    I agree with your thoughts that Rumer Godden would be very saddened by this move. I also agree that the fact that the community spaces are accessible to all members is a good thing, but, I think, from my point of view, the ONLY good thing about this. I think austere is not a bad thing, but downright utilitarian and just plain ugly are bad things. My late mother used to say of modern church architecture that one didn’t quite know whether to order a martini or say a prayer. Still, have to say I envy (not a good thing, I realize) anyone fortunate enough to have an abbey close to hand. God bless the sisters in their new home. I’ll bet their numbers increase and soon.
    Thanks again for the wonderful blog. I know it takes time and I am truly grateful. God bless!

  • Laura Short

    Very sad, indeed. Are we to lose in such utilitarianism? Reminds me of other denominations’ penchant for building churches from steel quonset-huts.

    I absolutely *love* _In This House of Brede_. I read it pert ne’er yearly…as does my adult Daughter, as did my late Mother.

    In the book, there is mention of the Benedictines of Brede having a sister-house in London. These city-bound nuns, however, had a “country home”; a place of beauty and refreshment they could retire to, on a routine basis, to get away from the austerity of their city-bound, cloistered life. As one of the nuns of Brede, desiring more austerity, more sacrifice, in her life commented about this, she was taught the value of Brede’s “pleached alley” and the beauty of Creation they had been blessed with.

    Would that this thought had occurred to the Good Sisters of Stanbrook and their architects…

  • Peter from MN

    Will the handicapped want to go there?

  • Elizabeth

    Laura, the area in which the new building is located more than makes up for the architecture. That part of Yorkshire is renowned for its beauty. The nuns have a lovely garden and the view of the Yorkshire countryside is breathtaking. The move has brought another practical advantage for them, too – they’re now within easy travelling distances of Ampleforth Abbey, home to a sizeable community of Benedictine monks. I know that they were looking forward to being so close to the brothers.

    As for the architecture, I don’t like it either. I was devastated when I found out that they had to give up Stanbrook, with all its history. That place was permeated with prayer. But the important thing is that the nuns feel happy with their new home (especially the old and infirm sisters, who struggled to get about the old abbey). Whether the new convent is to our taste or not is irrelevant. The question is, will it help them in their life of prayer and work? They say yes, and I’m happy to believe them. So what does it matter if I think the building is ugly?

  • By the Sea

    It looks like a cross between a prison and a Motel 6. Of course one can live and pray there. People used to live atop pillars and pray, but that doesn’t mean a collection of pillars would make a great monastery.

    I think the sisters have been philosophically out-wrestled and have lost a beautifiul home. They are consoled with the milktoast victory of having done good for the environment, to which all pleasing aesthetics, art, and beauty, are now becoming subject. The evironment has assumed supreme importance.

    I have to wonder if we are now starting to witness a “logic of green” much like the “logic of profit” to which the Pope has referred. The “logic of green” can be used to conquer just about anything that the priests of green wish it to conquer.

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  • cathyf

    A decade ago the Benedictines who used to teach at our parish’s grammar school sold their properties in Nauvoo, IL to the Mormons and moved 100 miles up the river to a newly-built site. It, too, is very modern and “green” building, but it’s not ugly, and it is in beautiful surroundings.

    this page has a picture

    this page, too.

    Here’s the chapel. And, yes, the view out those windows is magnificent!

  • Elizabeth

    By the Sea, the nuns only left Stanbrook because they had to leave it. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen pictures of the abbey, but it’s enormous. It was far too much for twenty-two sisters (some of them very elderly and frail) to keep going. It took a lot of hard work. If they had only had the numbers to stay at Stanbrook, they would have done. I kept praying that they would receive enough vocations to stay there right until it became clear that their departure was inevitable, but by the end even I could see that they couldn’t cling on there any longer.

    As for what makes a good monastery, I trust the nuns themselves to decide that. They’re the ones living the life, after all – and that’s what it comes back to.

    [I don't know if anyone has suggested that the monastery was not "good" -the life of the house is up to the sisters. We're just saying it's ugly. Ugly. -admin]

  • dry valleys
  • http://Winthir Sr. Marita Schweiger

    My heart aches about the diminishment of so many. But, there are flourishing religious communities…

    About the “Green”: St. Benedict’s RULE told us very long ago: “To handle all things as holy vessels of the altar.” Do we really need all the New Age emphasis on the “green”?

  • Tim

    I just do not see the problems described here
    as decisive. Jesus Christ told us that God watches every sparrow fall from the heavens.
    With all our science, can we do less?

    I think St. Maximillian Kolbe would have greatly preferred these accommodations to those he was afforded in the days before his martyrdom.

    God only knows what Dorothy Day could have done with such provisions, let alone what Mother Teresa would have managed.

    Let’s not waste the planet making ourselves feel good about a past none of us remember.

    [Why yes, beauty and history have no meaning, in the utilitarian world view? I'll have to tell all those folks starving for their art. And the NEA grant recipients, too! :-) admin]

  • Hantchu

    At least it should be easier to heat. If you’re working, cold and drafty isn’t so bad, but if you’re praying or studying, it’s not only distracting, but a quick way to pneumonia.

  • Hantchu

    Come on, I saw the video and it does NOT look like a cross between a Motel 6 and a prison. They seem like sensible, down-to-earth women who have their priorities in order. Better a living house of prayer than a dead museum.

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