Abbey Church & St. Laurence’s


The knocking down of the Abbey Church was dramatic – it was well photographed by Fr. Aidan and Fr. Leonard (?) with Thomas Cullinan with his reflex plate camera taking a series of stills thus chronicling the whole process.  The  ball and chain method of breaking down the walls and the arches was superbly dramatic.   I was fascinated by the whole process and as much as we were allowed I studied and walked over the site as the new church developed. I made friends as most of he community did with Mr. Brash and Mr.     who were the foreman and clerk of works with Birch the contractors.  It seemed extraordinary that so much of the stonework, statues and ornaments of the old church which had been treasured for a 100 years should be broken up.  It almost seemed a sacrilege and that they should have been stored as part of a museum of old Ampleforth.  The Benedict stature remained until the building of the new central building when it too disappeared.  A lady statue not the one with Christ in front on the floor, but another was saved and is still in the monastery cloister.


However by the January of 1957 the High altar had been separated off from the rest of the Church because the knocking down was taking place, and the school was to be housed for prayer in an Asbestos hut (called the tin Church or St. Lawrence) which was stations next to the Study block.  A bright red and gold hanging was behind the altar and new candlestick. – The 3rd years were responsible for the sacristy work because this brought them into contact which the boys which for the novices would never do. I was assisted by Lloyd Whitfeld (later Fr. Gilbert, ex chaplain ex Anglican, ex schoolmaster at Christ’s Hospital) and Selwyn Spearritt (later Fr. Placid, prior, and superior of monastery of New Norcia Australia)

Events which happened in St. Lawrence which I remember were the Catholic Eastern rite priest who came to celebrate.  Br. Francis Stephenson who was a expert in these rites – knelt and answered in a deep voice Gospodin and Parmelouis – or so I thought.   To this day I remember that he had consecrated enough bread for the school, only to find that they had just had breakfast and would not be communicating – he had to consume all.  It was leavened bread in chunks.  I remember Fr. Denis giving the Corpus Christi sermons which was quite exceptional.  I remember Philip Dore arriving to play the organ when we were looking for a Director of Music to replace Fr. Austin who was going out to St. Louis.  His dazzling Bach impressed lots, but it did not lead me into understanding and appreciating the music – it had to be during clarinet days that Bach became a favourite.  I remember Gregory Swann giving a quite outstanding sermon on the Trinity, and Fr. Cuthbert causing consternation among parents when he gave one on the organs of generation.  Fr. Columba once preached on not getting out of the barque of St. Peter – an image which has remained with me over the years.