Uprooted, Overlooked and Ignored

Today, there are around 40 million people in the world who are internally displaced. Internally displaced people have been uprooted from their homes and communities but remain in their countries of origin. Some are displaced by wars and violence, some by drought and famine, some by natural disasters. Whatever the reason for their displacement, their plight is often overlooked and ignored. We often focus our attention solely on those who have left their countries as refugees but internally displaced people represent two-thirds of people who have had to leave their homes. The Christian Aid campaign Uprooted and Overlooked draws attention to this problem and aims to ensure that any UN agreement on migrants and refugees includes provision for the internally displaced as well.

On Wednesday, we welcomed Christian Aid to the Priory to launch an exhibition which will be housed here for the duration of the Abergavenny Food Festival. We were incredibly privileged to hear from two new residents of Abergavenny who have direct personal experience of being displaced. Michael told us of the economic and political problems which caused his brother to leave Eritrea and of his own path to Abergavenny. He also spoke movingly of visiting his mother, who now resides in Sudan, after two years apart. Raasha told us of her flight from Syria and of the deep pain caused by separation from loved ones (if you’d like to support her, she will be selling baked goods on the lawn on the St Mary’s vicarage this Saturday).

Raasha addresses the opening of the Christian Aid exhibition at St Mary's Priory

Raasha tells her story

Finally, we heard from Mari McNeill, head of Christian Aid Wales, who put the scale of the issue into perspective for us. As she noted, 40 million is a mind-boggling number. Mari then pointed out that if all the displaced people were lined up outside the door of St Mary’s Priory and she were to introduce us to all of them, spending a minute each, it would take us 76 years to finish! And that’s assuming we never take a break! She also encouraged us to sign a petition to insist that the UK government pressure the UN to include internally displaced people in any detail concerning the current migrant and refugee crisis. We encourage you to do the same!

Please come down and check out the exhibition if you are able to. It consists of a series of stories of individual displaced people from Nigeria, Uganda, and Iraq. You will read, for instance, about Ayuba Azagwu who had to flee from Boko Haram. He now lives in a nine-room house in Maiduguri, sheltering up to 100 people who have also fled Boko Haram. The exhibition also asks a series of questions, which you may like to find somewhere in the Priory (or wherever you are) to sit quietly and consider:

  • Imagine if war came to your town — how would you decide whether to stay or to leave?
  • Imagine if you were forced to flee your home today. You must travel to an unfamiliar location. How safe would you feel?
  • Imagine there was no water in your home — or the shops. How would you survive?
Mari McNeill addresses the opening of the Christian Aid exhibition at St Mary's Priory

Mari McNeill addresses the gathering

It should be natural for Christians to be sensitive to the plight of displaced people. As Fr Mark noted, it was apt for us to be hearing about displaced people in front of the Jesse window in the St Joseph Chapel. The Jesse window contains depictions of many figures in Christian (and indeed Jewish history) who were displaced in one way or another, not least Jesus and Mary!

Thank you very much to Mari and all who have been involved in putting together the exhibition. It is a real privilege to be able to host it. We are also deeply grateful to Michael and Raasha for sharing their experiences with us. I’m sure everyone who was there will remember the night for a long time.

-Br Josh

Members of the Holywell Community help to set up the Christian Aid exhibition

Setting up the exhibition


Walking the Llantony Valley

Caroline Woollard, Chair of the Fr Ignatius Trust writes:

This year’s Fr Ignatius Memorial Trust pilgrimage took place on August 18— and the new members of the Holywell Community were all in the thick of it.

Fr Ignatius founded the Monastery at Capel y ffin in 1870 with the aim of restoring monastic life to the Church of England, and it remained in monastic use for over forty years.

The Trust holds an annual pilgrimage to Capel- y- ffin and the Abbey Church, including an optional 3 mile walk from Llanthony to Capel- y- ffin along the eastern side of the valley.

The day began with Mass for over 40 people at St David’s, Llanthony, celebrated this year by Fr Mark, Prior of the Holywell Community. The intercessions were led by Sub- Prior Fr Tom and the first lesson read by Br Seb.

After a shared picnic lunch, 15 intrepid pilgrims walked to Capel y ffin, this year along a dry track unlike other years when the mud has been shin deep. Both Fr Tom and Br Josh completed the walk while Br Seb waited at St Mary’s, Capel y ffin, after getting a life.

The very small, but beautifully formed St Mary’s was packed with people sitting on the stairs to the balcony or on the floor to hear the Rt Rev Cuthbert Brogan, Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey at Farnborough preach on the somewhat unorthodox Fr Ignatius and on his own life as a monk.


Everyone then processed from St Mary’s to the Monastery, now the home of Sue and Andrew Knill who have a holiday home business.

The cross was carried by Br Josh, pictured , all in all, the Trust had very good value from the Community in its first weekend.


The beginning of a pilgrimage: cycling the length of Wales

The author en route

The author en route

It’s natural to ask anyone who claims they are on a pilgrimage `where are you going?’. It’s also natural to ask `where do you come from?’ or `where is your home?’. A pilgrimage is, after all, a journey from the everyday world to a special or sacred place and back again. The pilgrim usually hopes to have gained something from the sacred place that will enrich their life when they return to the everyday world. The one important exception to this is ourselves, as members of the Church, on pilgrimage towards the Kingdom of God. When the destination is reached, there is no return in question. But on pilgrimage in this life, return is the norm.

In reflecting on my bicycle pilgrimage to join the Holywell Community, a few possible answers to these questions came to mind. One option is to think of myself as going to a series of sacred sites from one home, Sheffield, and `returning’ to a new home in Abergavenny. This way of thinking has some advantages. For one thing, it means my pilgrimage is completed. For another thing, I can point to obvious places and acts in those places: sitting in various churches, praying offices, lighting candles, reading about and praying for the intercession of the relevant saints for success in the coming year.

The other option is to think of this pilgrimage as only just beginning. Unlike in a traditional community, members of the Holywell Community do not make life commitments. It is designed for people to take time out to explore their next steps. It is itself a kind of sacred place to which people come, leave behind their everyday lives, and then return, hopefully changed. My pilgrimage is then, I prefer to think, to the Holywell Community and to a year of Benedictine work and prayer. The sites I visited on the way were then a preparation for my arrival.

Enough theory. I’d like to share some highlights of my journey through Wales. The initial plan had been to ride all the way from Sheffield. Unfortunately, I had to settle for a train to Bangor for the first leg of the journey. So, at about 5pm on the 3rd of August, I set out from the Bangor train station. I thought I’d begin by going in the wrong direction and visiting Holyhead and the site of St Cybi’s monastery there (at St Cybi’s parish church). By about 8pm, the clouds were descending fast and the light was gone. Worried that I’d be thrown off my bike by oncoming traffic, I knocked on a farmhouse around 20 miles into my ride and asked if I could camp in some woods on their property. After negotiating the placement of my camping hammock with some nearby cows, I heated up a can of beans and veg sausages and climbed into my sleeping bag for my first night outdoors.

Heading to Bangor

Heading to Bangor

I was anxious not to overstay my welcome in the woods, but not so anxious that I skipped the chance to cook myself some porridge and brew some coffee in a small moka pot (a vital camping supply). I set out around 8am and arrived in Holyhead around 9:30. Luckily, St Cybi’s were having a coffee morning and choir practice so I could have a look around and briefly pray in the Lady Chapel. I spent some time chatting with the local congregation, who sent me on my way filled with coffee and biscuits and with their good wishes. I spent some time on the beach and then left at around 1pm.

On my way back to Bangor, I came across the church of St. Peulan (looked after by Friends of Friendless Churches). The font (pictured) was particularly impressive. According to some, it was used as the altar before the Normans. I said sext from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (One reason that I’m attracted to this office is its simplicity. It fits in a small, very portable, volume.) I started to really feel like I was headed for a religious community when I heard the sounds of the psalms bouncing off the walls at St Peulan’s.

For my second night, I set up at a campground a few miles south-west of Bangor. Sunday morning came. After stumbling across a coffee morning at St Cybi’s and finding St Peulan’s open, I thought I wouldn’t have any trouble finding a Eucharist to attend. Unfortunately, I failed! (That said, I spent over an hour on my phone trying to find one. To anyone listening: please, please keep up-to-date service times available online.) I passed through Caernarfon Castle and ended the day in sight of Harlech Castle at a particularly nice and friendly campsite. The view was incredible, but the climb up through Snowdonia was the hardest of the ride (with a few nasty 20% sections). The pressure caused a spoke to break in my rear wheel, which, in turn, caused the wheel to spin in an increasingly eccentric fashion over the next few days.

Sunset at Merthyr Farm

Sunset at Merthyr Farm

The next day I visited Harlech Castle (and St Tanwg’s parish church) in the morning and had another ride down the coast. I had lunch in Barmouth, which was packed due to heatwave temperatures and pushed on through Dolgellau up another few hundred meters and down through sheep, cattle, and forestry to a river-side campsite just before Machynlleth. I only realised it was the Feast of the Transfiguration once I was set up at the campsite (another pilgrimage failure).

River-side campsite

River-side campsite

A leisurely morning was spent waiting out the rain in Machynlleth. I spent a few hours in a cafe charging my phone, visited the small museum at the site of Owain Glyndŵr’s parliament during the revolt of 1400-1415, and spoke with some parishioners at St Peter’s (once St Cybi’s) cleaning up after a flower festival. One of Glyndŵr’s aims was the independence of the Church in Wales from the Church in England. So at least some of his aims have be achieved (at least, they have as far as we Anglicans are concerned). Riding out of Machynlleth in the afternoon sent me up to the highest point on National Cycle Route Eight. I then had a nice long downhill to the Llanidloes and the River Severn. Neighbouring campers seemed to take pity on the weird man alone in a hammock and fed me pizza and chips. I hope to be able to pass on this hospitality in some way as part of the Benedictine ethos of the Holywell Community.

I had a slow morning in Llanidloes. I finally found a bike shop which would consider re-tuning my rear wheel (thanks Llani Bikes!). Highlights of my wandering included the parish church of St Idloes (containing a stone arcade from Abbey Cwm Hir, a medieval Cistercian monastery) and a beautiful timber-framed market hall with a stone which Wesley stood on to preach on multiple occasions. One of the least exciting rides then followed, a short ride to Builth Wells (I tried to stop earlier, but an over-officious campsite owner refused to let me use my hammock on his site. No link for them!). Thankfully, the campsite in Builth Wells were much more accommodating. It was here I saw my first road sign for Abergavenny.

Lunch on the Wye

Lunch on the Wye

Another short ride took me to Hay-on-Wye, where I treated myself to a hotel room for the night. I managed to restrict myself to only four books. Unfinished business. The next day, on the way from Hay-on-Wye over the Gospel pass to Abergavenny, I learnt a new title of Our Lady: Our Lady of Capel-y-Ffin. This title comes from a series of apparitions claimed by members of Fr Ignatius’s monastery in Capel-y-Ffin. This title was present on icons in both in St Mary’s in Hay-on-Wye and at the small chapel of the same name in Capel-y-Ffin itself. I’ll be hearing more about this on the Fr Ignatius pilgrimage (pilgrimages within pilgrimages!) this Saturday.

St Mary the Virgin, Capel-y-Ffin

St Mary the Virgin, Capel-y-Ffin

After seven days of riding, I dropped down into Abergavenny. Soon enough, I met Fr Mark at the tithe barn, rushed to the community house for a shower, and joined in at Vespers at 4:30pm.

Were there any advantages to journeying by bike? Pilgrimages can be, and often are, made by coach or car. This is, of course, good! Many are unable to go cycling for a week and are not in any sense lesser pilgrims. One way in which a longer journey, one measured in days or weeks rather than hours, is useful is that it creates a clear psychological break between the everyday world and the destination. I found during my ride that the usual habits of thought and action associated with my life in Sheffield began to fade, being replaced with a different pattern of thoughts concerning campsites, rest stops, bodily strains, and bicycle maintenance. This space between home and destination has, I think, helped to put me in a better mental space to begin my year in Abergavenny.

A further and unnecessary selfie at Harlech Castle.

A further and unnecessary selfie at Harlech Castle.

I’d like to express my gratitude to Bishop Richard (our Episcopal Visitor), Bishop Dominic (who commissioned us in Bishop Richard’s place), Fr Mark (the Prior), Fr Tom (the Sub Prior), Br Seb, previous members of the Holywell Community, and everyone else I’ve met since arriving in Abergavenny. The welcome I have received has been very special to me and I thank you all for it. I’d also like to say how sad I was to leave Sheffield. I’ll miss the many friends I made there in both the university and at St Matthew’s Carver Street. I tended to keep church and non-church spheres quite separate in Sheffield. That will not be possible this year as I wander around Abergavenny wearing the community’s habit.

Finally, a litany of Welsh saints that I came across on my ride:
St Cybi, ora pro nobis
St Peulan, ora pro nobis
St Tanwg, ora pro nobis
St Idloes, ora pro nobis
St Curig, ora pro nobis
St Gwrthwl, ora pro nobis
St Cynog, ora pro nobis

– Br Josh

Community goes on retreat to 1000 year old Benedictine Abbey

The new Community will next week travel to Buckfast Abbey in Devon for its Inaugural Retreat.

The Abbey which is well known to the Holywell Community is this year celebrating its Millennium, founded as it was in 1018 by King Canute. Our Prior joined the Buckfast Community for their special celebrations last month on the Feast of St Benedict.

The Community will stay in Avila Cottage in the Abbey grounds and join the monks for their offices.



From Monday, August 20 to the Thursday no offices will be said at the Priory Church in Abergavenny.


Abbey’s West end

New Lay Members Commissioned, as Holywell Community enters its Fifth Year.

Bishop Dominic’s Address

Speaking at the Commissioning of Br. Seb  and Br. Josh  today, Bishop Dominic Walker OGS said: “We are not here to build our own kingdom but the kingdom of God”.


Bishop Dominic (2nd right) with the Community and the Archdeacon of Monmouth (right)

“St Benedict knows what builds and what destroys communities and that applies to parishes as well as monasteries and I would hope that with its historic Benedictine roots and the presence of the Holywell Community, that the congregation as well as the Community will be Benedictine in spirit. Benedict taught that learning to listen – to listen to God and one another is at the heart of Christian life and the longest Chapter in the Rule is about following the path that leads to humility”.

Sermon in Full here.

Who are the new members?

Br Josh  comes to us from Sheffield. A native of Christchurch New Zealand, Josh has just completed his PhD in Philosophy. Whilst in Sheffield Josh was baptised and worshipped at St Matthew’s Carver Street. He arrived by bicycle having travelled as a pilgrim through Wales to engage with the Welsh saints before undertaking his commission with the Holywell Community.


Dr Josh Black enroute to Abergavenny

Br Sebastian comes to us from Colchester where he worships at St Michael’s Church in Thorpe-le- Soken. Sebastian recently featured in a Church of England campaign to raise awareness of living with autism and exploring vocation.


Sebastian Sands before her left Colchester

The Prior and Sub Prior have welcomed the new lay members:

“We look forward to our Community life together and we hope that you will join us in affording them a warm welcome along with your support, encouragement, and prayers as they journey with us in their process of discernment and seek to serve Christ amongst us.”



Prior(left) and Sub Prior(right) put the finishing touches to the Induction programme