Society of Our Lady of the Isles
The Society of Our Lady of the Isles (SOLI) is a small Anglican religious order for women. It is arguably the most remote community (by location) within the Anglican Communion. It is located on the island of Fetlar in Shetland, and is part of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Rule of the community is a mixture of Franciscan and Cistercian, but with heavy Celtic influences.
The community dates its origin from 1984 when the Reverend Mother Mary Agnes arrived on Fetlar to live a contemplative and isolated life of prayer. She took over a simple cottage with a small barn suitable for conversion to a chapel. Others began to visit, or stay, and in 1988 the Society was named and came into existence as a group, rather than an individual. Mother Mary Agnes was formally recognised as Superior by the Church in 1993.
Shetland is a large, but remote island group that is politically part of Scotland. The main island may be accessed from mainland Scotland by ferry or aeroplane. From the Shetland mainland a 20-minute ferry journey is necessary to the island of Yell. Travellers must then cross this island by road (18 miles), and take a further ferry journey (25 minutes) to Fetlar. The final part of the journey, on Fetlar, is usually completed by foot, although a 'dial-a-ride' subsidised taxi service is available on the island, if booked in advance.
Since opening, new convent buildings have been developed. The main convent house is a safe and secure modern building, and a new chapel has been built on the convent site, dedicated to "Christ the Encompasser and all his Angels". At present four sisters live in community, of whom two are life professed (having taken final vows). The life professed sisters live in isolation (as hermits), joining with the rest of the community only for daily Compline (Night Prayer), weekly choir practice, and the Sunday morning sung mass. The other sisters live as Oblate sisters. A fifth sister lives in the daughter house located at Bridge of Walls on the mainland of Shetland. A version of the community's Rule is followed by a number of 'external oblates', who support the community, and live under simple promises, but not full monastic vows. There are currently no facilities for resident guests, but visitors can stay on Fetlar in bed and breakfast accommodation, and join in the prayer life of the community. The convent has a hospitality room where all visitors are invited to rest and make themselves a hot drink.
The Byre Chapel, which was the original place of worship developed from a barn, remains in use as a place of prayer. It is noteworthy for its simple and rustic style of construction and furnishing. The opposite end retains its traditional use, as the SOLI community goat (named 'Iona') lives here.
The Chapel of Christ the Encompasser and all his Angels is of modern construction, and part of the 'new' convent buildings. The daily office is prayed here, and there is a Sunday mass at 10 am each week. The chapel affords impressive sea views. Both chapels are open to visitors.