Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Buckfast Abbey

Monastery of Our Lady of Buckfast, two miles from Ashburton, England

Click to enlarge

Buckfast Abbey.—The date of the foundation of the monastery of Our Lady of Buckfast, two miles from Ashburton, England, in a beautiful Devonshire valley watered by the Dart, is unknown; but it was certainly long before the Norman Conquest. The earliest authentic document is a grant by King Canute (1015-1035), to the monks of Buckfast of the manor of Sele, now called Zeal Monachorum. The best authorities assign the foundation to the middle of the tenth century. Early in the twelfth century it was incorporated into the Benedictine Congregation of Savigny, founded in Normandy in 1112. In 1148, five years before the death of St. Bernard, the thirty Savigny houses, including Buckfast (of which Eustace was then abbot) were affiliated to Clairvaux, thus becoming a part of the great Cistercian Order. Buckfast now developed into one of the most important monasteries in the great Diocese of Exeter. It flourished both materially and spiritually, originating the celebrated woollen trade of the district, encouraging other industries, and preserving unimpaired its discipline and the fervor of its observance. The latter, however, became relaxed (as in other Cistercian houses) in the fourteenth century, one result being the rapid diminution in the community. The reputation, however, of the monks for learning was sustained until the dissolution, and they seem to have been generally beloved in the district for their piety, kindliness, and benevolence.

The last legitimately elected Abbot of Buckfast was John Rede, who died about 1535, the year of the Visitation ordered by Henry VIII, which resulted in the intrusion of Gabriel Donne into the vacant chair. Donne surrendered the house to the King in 1538, receiving for himself ample compensation. The buildings were immediately sold, the lead stripped from the roof, and the monastery and church left to decay. In 1882, about three centuries and a half after the suppression of the Cistercian Abbey, the ruined buildings came again into the possession of Benedictine monks, belonging to the French Province of the Cassinese Congregation of the Primitive Observance. Mass was again said and the Divine Office chanted at Buck-fast, on October 29, 1882, and eight months later the abbey was legally conveyed to the monks.

The plan of the buildings at Buckfast followed the conventional Cistercian arrangement, with the cloister south of the church, and grouped round it the chapter-house, calefactory, refectory, and other loca regularia. The church was 220 feet long, with short transepts, each with a small eastern chapel. The Benedictines now in possession have built a temporary church, and are proceeding with the work of rebuilding the former one, and the rest of the monastic buildings, on the ancient foundations. The tower which still remains has been carefully restored, and the southern wing of the monastery has been rebuilt in simple twelfth-century style, and was opened in April, 1886. The third abbot since the return of the monks in 1882, Dom Anschar Vouier, formerly one of the professors at the Benedictine University of St. Anselm in Rome, was solemnly blessed by the Bishop of Plymouth in October, 1906.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!