History

Donate

The monks of St Augustine's Abbey live a life of prayer, work and study in Community life. Any support you are able to give is most gratefully appreciated. If you would like to support us, you can do so below.

The Life of Prayer

We monks of St Augustine's Abbey have few external works, and our life is, therefore, fundamentally contemplative which means that our work is prayer. Because we do not engage in much remunerative work, a large part of our income is derived from the goodness of others. For this we are grateful to God and to all our supporters. Prayer is a continuous and constant work that goes on in the monastery throughout the day. We think of this ongoing work as 'The Life of Prayer'. If you would like your own personal needs, the needs of loved ones or special intentions to be included in our life of prayer, please ask us. The world provides abundantly for the needs of the body, we seek to provide for the needs of the soul.

The History of St. Augustine's Abbey & Monastery

The Abbots of the Abbey »»   St. Benedict of Nursia »»

Origins of St Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate.

Subiaco Italy
St. Benedict's, Subiaco, Italy
St Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate is one of four Benedictine monasteries in Great Britain forming the English Province of the international Benedictine Congregation of Subiaco. The Abbey was founded as a result of the invitation made by Bishop Thomas Grant, the first Bishop of Southwark, to the Italian abbot Dom Pietro Casaretto, to send monks from St Benedict’s own monastery at Subiaco to undertake a mission at Ramsgate. By 1856 arrangements between Bishop Grant and Abbot Casaretto were concluded and the first monk, Dom Wilfrid Alcock, arrived to take charge at the Ramsgate mission which had been made possible thanks to the building of a Gothic church by the famous Gothic Revivalist architect Augustus Welby Pugin, which was donated to the Diocese of Southwark before his premature death in 1852.

St Augustines Cross
St. Augustine's Cross near Cliffsend

In the years 1860-61, with the help of Mr Alfred Luck, a wealthy and devout benefactor, the monastery of St Augustine of Canterbury was built, the first Benedictine monastery to be built in England since the Reformation. Shortly afterwards a full monastic observance was established. The monastery gained independence from Subiaco in 1876, becoming a Priory in 1881 and was raised to the status of an Abbey by Pope Blessed Pius IX in 1896. A school was established for in 1865, which grew to provide to a Catholic education for boys for well over 130 years, finally closing in 1995.

Monks from St Augustine's were responsible for many churches and Convent chaplaincies on the Isle of Thanet until the 1960s. The Community’s primary work is the glorification of God seven times a day in the celebration of the Divine Office and the sacred Liturgy. The monks provide chaplains to three convents of religious sisters, apiculture, the production of organic cosmetics and skin care products, the compilation of The Book of Saints, and the running of a Guest House in which male retreatants are accommodated.

Monastic life at Ramsgate has always been characterised by the apostolic and contemplative zeal of Abbot Casaretto, in imitation of St Augustine of Canterbury to whom our monastery is dedicated, who landed at Ebbsfleet, a very short distance from where our Abbey stands, with his band of forty monks in 597 to bring Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons. Our life still combines the contemplative life with the pastoral fervour of our forefathers. Through the great Benedictine tradition of prayer and work, we endeavour to witness to the presence of Christ’s Kingdom in this historic centre of English Christianity.

History of Monasticism

In the history of human society, monasticism has tended to emerge in those societies which are aware that their welfare is governed by a higher, spiritual reality which is separate yet beneficent. This has been true most famously of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and the native religions of China and Japan. The spiritual reality may be Nirvana as in Buddhism, or a personal God who is receptive to relationships with individuals as in the religions derived from the Semitic tradition especially. The urge to the monastic life derives from the separateness of the spiritual realm. To use the latter tradition as an example, God is understood as being the centre of the Universe and the reason it exists (he is the Creator), yet not part of it, and not governing the actions of human beings as if they were pre-programmed robots. Human beings have free-will, hence the intuition of those who believe both in God and in ordinary society is that the latter is not always in conformity to the existence of the former (which is the mystery of evil and sin).

Monasticism arises when individuals or groups seek to stand aside from the more immediate pressures of secular society, and focus on the spiritual reality. The major pressures are those of producing offspring and being offspring oneself, especially in societies where the extended family is of ultimate importance. Deriving from this are the pressures of exclusive sexual relations which, by their nature, dominate the awareness of individuals, and are the reason why monastics are celibate. Monastics withdraw from these pressures without condemning them, but the Christian tradition is certainly not that they withdraw from the pressures of earning a living. The latter has been insisted upon from the earliest days. Further, Christian monastics have always held that their withdrawl from mainstream secular society includes a wish to enhance that society, for by focusing on the spiritual reality of God in the redemptive activity of Jesus Christ, they believe that they can bring that redemption nearer to their society. This is also why Christian societies, especially before the Reformation, valued monasticism so highly.

Present-day Christian monasticism finds its roots in Egypt in the fourth century. Around the time that the Roman Empire was becoming Christian, many men and women left the crowded and pressured life of the Nile Valley and went into the desert, where they tried to live before God in a state of prayer and in absolute psychological reality. That is, they tried to discover what it was they needed rather than wanted, being aware (as most people are) that there is a great difference between the two. Some lived alone as hermits, others in communities, and they became famous for limiting the amount they ate, slept and talked in order to map out their psychological needs. Their teachings survive to the present day in the biography of their most famous example, St Antony, and in the so-called Sayings of the Desert Fathers which are full of insights completely consonant with modern psychology.

The life of St Antony became famous throughout the Roman Empire in that century, and it is now known that monastic life was tried by Christians everywhere. Most of these left few records, but experimental communities that sprang up often left written rules of life which were written down and hence survived. The most famous of these started to emerge into history in what is now southern France in the early 7th century. Tradition ascribed it to a monastic leader in central Italy called St Benedict who lived a hundred years earlier, and who founded the famous monastery of Montecassino. He had taken a previously written rule and amended it in a way which showed pure genius, producing a rule of life which was compassionately aware of the reality of the human condition. This Rule of St Benedict became fashionable in monastic circles in the western European Carolingian Empire of the 9th century to the extent that it was made legally binding on the empire’s monasteries, and also spread to England. Tradition used to hold that the first missionary monks who came to England from Rome were Benedictines, under St Augustine of Canterbury who had been sent by Pope St Gregory the Great. However, archaeological and documentary evidence now makes it clear that Anglo-Saxon monasticism was much more colourful and varied than the later mediaeval norm, and the Benedictine rule became the standard only under the great St Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury in the late 10th century.

The Celts in Ireland, as well as the Eastern churches deriving from Constantinople, had their own monastic traditions. The latter flourishes in every country where the Orthodox Church exists. The Irish monastics created a culture which was the greatest in western Europe in the 8th century, except for the Muslims in Spain, and they evangelized Scotland and northern England.

In the barbarian societies that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, monasticism was a complete success especially as centres of higher culture. Monastics helped to preserve literate civilisation in western Europe. As the Middle Ages developed, they created the great treasures in art and architecture which are still the wonder of the world. Yet in creating such great beauty, they also created such comfort and prestige for themselves that they began to lose the respect of the great urban civilisation that developed from the 13th century. This was one reason why many European societies turned against monasticism and destroyed it, firstly at the Reformation and secondly at the Enlightenment. (The French Revolution and the Napoleonic period were especially savage.)

But the main reason for the hostility of secular societies after the 16th century was the wish to make those societies themselves the ultimate centres of meaning for the individual people they contain. This totalitarian trend started at the Reformation, where a hostility to monasticism was often matched by a determination to make secular society a rule-based arbiter of individual morality. The absolutist rulers of the 17th and 18th centuries were also hostile, as were their imitators in the totalitarian states of the 20th century. But the 19th century saw a paradoxical flowering of monasticism in western Europe after almost total destruction, and the monasteries that were founded and re-founded then mostly survive to perpetuate the ideal. They are a source of fascination to modern people, even as modern society as a whole becomes less welcoming to the idea of a divine reality.

   
Ramsgate Benedictines

 

Home | Introduction | History | Monastic Life | Vocations | The Order of St. Benedict
The Rule of St. Benedict | News | Shop | Tours | Guests & Retreats | Contact Us