Five go modal in Normandy


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Five members went on the Bec visit, four leaving Canterbury in the early morning to get to there in time for Mass and lunch. Helen arrived much later due to earlier commitments in London (and rubbish directions from Jonathan!).

The objective was to experience the rhythm of life in a Benedictine house for a few days and to observe the pattern of offices and prayer life of the community. There were too few of us confidently to offer any of our singing, so "silent participation" was the order of the day. This did not mean that we were not involved! Jonathan was asked to read in vespers and Helen, having asked to try the organ in the abbey which had been recently restored, was asked to play for Sunday Mass (Trinity Sunday) at which the Bishop of Evreux was presiding. No pressure there then!

All the offices at both the abbey and the monastère were in French to Bec composed chants, although most of the antiphons were Gregorian. Mass was also Gregorian. It was a delight to see and hear the experts sing. On Saturday night, the sisters joined with the brothers at the abbey to sing vigils, a beautifully choreographed office, which starts in the dark and slowly all the lights come on. It ended with them processing to the rear of the church to sing the solemn Salve in front of the statue of Our Lady. On Sunday, the sisters again joined with the brothers for Mass.

We stayed in a delightful self-contained annex to the Monastère Ste. Françoise Romaine a couple of km from the abbey itself. Prior knowledge of the ever present mosquitoes meant that we were well prepared! As ever, we were delightfully entertained by the sisters and the group had an audience with Mère Prière Placide and other sisters after supper one evening.

Between offices we went on local visits to Brionne, Le Neubourg and to Rouen where we visited the cathedral and the lovely modern church of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc which shares its roof with the local market. Many walks were taken between the monastère and the village of Le Bec Hellouin (where the abbey is) along the beautiful valley of Le Bec.

The weather was very kind to us, only raining at night, so we were able to take full advantage of the opportunities offered.

Jonathan Butchers

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