Pluscarden Abbey to invite women for first time

A monk reads in the library of the abbey. Picture: Ian Rutherford
A monk reads in the library of the abbey. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A MEDIAEVAL Scottish abbey that is home to the only order of Benedictine monks in the country is to undergo a £4 million restoration to allow women to stay in the building for the first time.

Pluscarden Abbey, which dates back to 1230, is a major tourist attraction in Moray but previously only male visitors have been allowed to stay within the abbey, and even dine with the monks.

Pluscarden Abbey in Morayshire.  Picture:  Ian Rutherford

Pluscarden Abbey in Morayshire. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Women who visit have had to stay in a guest house some distance from the abbey, and were not allowed to dine within the building.

That will all change with the renovation plans, which also include a new library – and it has been described as “a historic event” by Lord Lieutenant of Moray, Lieutenant Colonel Granville Johnston, who is chairing a fundraising committee for the abbey.

The monks hope the investment will improve their hospitality, without compromising the seclusion they require for a life of prayer.

Father Abbot Anselm Atkinson said: “Our policy hitherto has been that the male guests, whose guest house is part of the abbey building, take their meals with the monks, while the women guests, who are accommodated some distance from the abbey, prepare meals for themselves.

The monks eat lunch in the abbey refectory. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The monks eat lunch in the abbey refectory. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

“We decided that we should find a way of providing meals for our women guests at the abbey.

“At the same time, we did not want to change our traditional practice of enclosure, part of which is that normally only male guests eat in the monastic refectory.

• The struggles facing the monks of Pluscarden Abbey

“We thought the best compromise would be to have a dining for female guests adjacent to the monastic kitchen, so that from one kitchen we could provide meals for two separate dining areas.

“In this way our women guests will have easy access to the church and to dining facilities at the abbey like the men have always enjoyed.”

The monks hope to restore the fourth wing of the abbey to provide the accommodation for female guests.

A new library is also planned for the second floor of the proposed south wing extension.

The existing women’s guest house outside the abbey gates would be converted into a visitor centre.

Brother Michael de Klerk added: “A preliminary estimate of the project puts the total cost at about £4m.

“This may seem a daunting figure, but we can assure you that it seems no less daunting to the monks.

“However, there are grounds for hope that public funding might be available for a work such as this, which would clearly be of public benefit.”

Pluscarden Abbey is the home of a community of Catholic Benedictine monks.

It is the only medieval monastery in Britain still inhabited by monks and being used for its original purpose.

The Order of St Benedict, first established in the sixth century, was the most widespread order of monasticism in mediaeval Europe.

Monks left the abbey at the end of the 16th century, but returned again in 1948.

There are currently 20 monks who have chosen to live a disciplined life of prayer and contemplation.

They wear a white habit and when not at prayer or study work in the grounds, looking after guests or in craft workshops.

The abbey day begins at 4:15am, with the last office held after 8pm.

Situated six miles south-west of Elgin in Moray, the monastery enjoys the peace and stillness of a secluded glen, but is easily reached by road from the town.

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