Downside Abbey to Close

In a recent article, The Tablet announced that the Benedictine Abbey at Downside would be closed, after having previously been separated from the public school on the same site in Somerset. The school will remain on the site but the abbey will move to a new location:

The decision comes soon after the abbey and its monastic community completely separated from Downside School, a move that followed a 2018 investigation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) into abuse at both Downside and Ampleforth. At Downside IICSA found a “culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour” that prioritised monks’ reputations over the safety of children.

In September 2019 the Charity Commission approved the creation of a new charity to run Downside School, while the abbey was to continue as Downside Abbey General Trust. No monk from the Community was allowed to have a role in the charity that ran the school.

A spokesperson said today that the separation of the abbey and the school had enabled the Monastic Community to concentrate on discerning their future. “They have now unanimously decided to make a new start and to seek a new place to live.”

In a statement the Community said that the shrinking monastic community and “changing circumstances” mean that the current monastery buildings are no longer suitable.

Another article by James Baresel explains Evelyn Waugh’s longtime attachment to both the abbey and the school. This appears on the website ChurchMilitant.com:

Downside, as the senior community within the English Benedictine congregation, took its place as an important influence within 19th century England’s Catholic revival. Its school rose steadily to the top, the Benedictines eventually overtook even the then-rigorous Jesuits as their country’s true masters of Catholic education. Its architecture was at the forefront of the neo-Gothic movement and has since been declared a Grade I building by England’s National Heritage Trust.

Such centrality to English Catholic life continued well into the 20th century. One of its monks, Dom Hubert van Zeller, ranked among the more popular spiritual writers of mid-20th century England and was a friend of both Monsignor Ronald Knox (for whom he also served as a confessor) and Evelyn Waugh (who frequently made retreats at the monastery and sent one of his sons to its school).

Waugh sent his oldest son Auberon to the Downside School but his second son, James, was sent to Stonyhurst (another Roman Catholic school). Septimus Waugh, his youngest son, mentions in a recent article in The Tablet that he was also educated at Downside. See previous post. The Downside School kindly hosted the Evelyn Waugh Society’s 2011 conference. Waugh’s last work published in his lifetime was a review of Dom van Zeller’s autobiography One Foot in the Cradle. This appeared in the Downside Review (April 1966). Waugh died on 10 April 1966.

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