Belmont Abbey, Herefordshire
|Abbey Church of St Michael and All Angels, Hereford|
View from the Abbey gardens
|OS grid reference||SO4821038149|
|Former name(s)||Pro-Cathedral of Newport and Menevia|
|Consecrated||4 September 1860|
|Heritage designation||Grade II*|
|Designated||22 October 1986|
|Architect(s)||Edward Welby Pugin|
|Archbishop||Most Rev. George Stack|
|Abbot||Rt. Rev. Paul Stonham OSB|
|Priest(s)||Very Rev. Nicholas Wetz OSB|
Belmont Abbey, in Herefordshire, England is a Catholic Benedictine monastery that forms part of the English Benedictine Congregation. It stands on a small hill overlooking the city of Hereford to the east, with views across to the Black Mountains, Wales to the west. The 19th century Abbey also serves as a parish church.
The monastery was founded as Belmont Priory in 1859 to be the Common Novitiate and House of Studies for the English Benedictine Congregation. Francis Wegg-Prosser, of nearby Belmont House, who had been received into the Catholic Church, can rightly be called its founder. In 1855 the church became the pro-Cathedral of the diocese of Newport and Catholic Diocese of Menevia. The Benedictine Thomas Joseph Brown was its first bishop, who is buried in the church. Belmont was unique in England by having a monastic cathedral chapter along the pattern of the Benedictine cathedral priories of mediaeval England, such as Canterbury, Winchester and Durham. The monks were the canons of the Cathedral.
A move to transfer the training of monks to the individual monasteries of the English Benedictine Congregation led to Belmont being allowed to take its own novices in 1901, and become an independent house in 1917. In 1920 Belmont was raised to the rank of an Abbey by the papal bull Praeclara Gesta. The Church ceased to be a Cathedral, it being transferred to Cardiff.
The Abbey Church
The Abbey Church is a grade II* Listed building. Its construction began in 1857 and it was consecrated on 4 September 1860. It was built to the designs of Edward Welby Pugin, son of the great Augustus Welby Pugin. Built in the decorated, early English style, it demonstrated the resurgent optimism of the restored Catholic faith.
The exterior is in local pink sandstone, simple and unadorned, reminiscent of many classical monastic facades of the fourteenth century. The interior is faced with warm Bath stone. The church is dominated by four elegant, steeply pointed, arches which support the central tower. Originally this was the crossing, but now the altar stands here at the centre of the Church. The whole church was expensive for its time costing £45,000.
The church is noted for the quality of its sculpture and stained glass. Dedicated to St Michael and All Angels worshippers are surrounded by angels with harps, cymbals and pipes to accompany the monks and worshippers in their prayer. The finest stone angels are those in the nave, but the eye is drawn to the angel reredos in the east end of the church and fine Victorian glass showing the archangels Michael (the abbey's patron, sword and shield in hand, trampling the dragon), Raphael and Gabriel and the nine choirs of angels as an angelic orchestra sounding of praises of God.
Under a magnificent wooden roof stands the monastic choir, where the Community gathers five times a day for the Divine Office and Mass. Side altars are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Joseph, and a memorial altar commemorating the old boys of the school who lost their lives in the Second World War. The North Transept was formerly an elaborate chantry chapel dedicated to the Welsh Saints.
St Benedict's chapel, completed in 1875, is a colourful gem of its own showing the monastic founder in the central reredos. The chapel offers a history of monasticism in the west through the saints portrayed there.
The monastic community follows the Rule of St Benedict under the guidance of an Abbot, centred around the Divine Office and Mass prayed daily in the Abbey Church.
Following the post-Reformation English tradition the monks have been involved in educational and pastoral work. In 1926 Belmont Abbey School was founded. This continued to expand in the post war years. Two prep schools were also founded, Alderwasley and Llanarth, Monmouthshire. These in turn were closed, and the school at Belmont was itself closed in 1993, but there is a loyal association of old boys and girls.
Today the monks undertake numerous works including the pastoral care of the Catholics in Herefordshire, west Cumbria and South Wales. In addition the community maintains a small foundation at Pachacamac near Lima, Peru - the Monastery of the Incarnation.
The community currently numbers 39 monks in England and Peru. In 2001 its former Abbot Mark Jabalé was appointed Bishop of Menevia. His successor as Abbot is Paul Stonham. Current Prior is Dom Nicholas Wetz.
In 2006 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Belmont Abbey a grant for their project "Discovering Belmont Abbey, to make the Abbey Church more accessible to a wide range of people, to enlarge its educational activities and restore the fabric of the church. Work is to commence in August 2008.
Sexual Abuse Scandal
Father John Kinsey was sentenced to five years at Worcester Crown Court in 2005 by Judge Andrew Geddes for a series of serious offences relating to assaults on schoolboys attending Belmont Abbey School in the mid 1980s.
Kinsey attacked three schoolboys while a monk at Belmont Abbey during a two-year period, grooming and attacking victims during bell ringing lessons, carrying out altar service duties and while playing the church organ. The frequency of his attacks increased to a weekly basis before Kinsey was sent away from the Abbey for a short period to train as a priest.
Due to falling pupil numbers Belmont Abbey closed the school in the early 1990s.
List of Abbots (until 1920 - Priors)
- The History of Belmont Abbey by Basil Whelan, Bloomsbury Publishing Company 1959.