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11/21/2011 Archived Entry: "Ampleforth Abbey - history lesson for Grandsons"

GrandsonsteasingFish (68k image)

History lesson for Grandsons

During the recent half-term, we had the pleasure of entertaining two of our grandsons for the day. As grandparents it’s always a bit of a challenge finding something to keep lively young lads occupied and Jasper and Joey are no exception. Anything that involves water, getting muddy or climbing goes down well and in the past we’ve climbed up to the White Horse, scrambled down to Gormire Lake, got lost in Gilling Woods and drenched ourselves in the lake there. We’ve fought a few ‘battles’ at Byland Abbey (though we did get a scolding for disturbing the peace of that hallowed ruin).

Now, the boys are getting older, I felt it was time for a history lesson in what these abbeys really were all about. So I sat them down and asked them if they remembered our visits to Byland, Rievaulx and Fountains. ‘Oh, yes,’ they said, ‘they were great fun. Are we going again today?’ I told them yes we were going to an abbey but not to a ruin. This would be a very different experience and they wouldn’t be able to run, shout or play at soldiers. This was to be a serious visit and they must be very quiet and respectful, but they would find out what Byland, Rievaulx and Fountains were like hundreds of years ago when they were thriving communities, with lots of monks and lay people living and working there.

They didn’t seem put off by this prospect, so we set off to walk the half-mile from our house to Ampleforth Abbey. We entered by the huge south door and let them stand for a minute to take in the size and height of this impressive church. Then we headed to the undercroft. It is quite dark down there and they seemed impressed with the spooky atmosphere. ‘It’s a bit like Hogwarts’ whispered Jasper. We did a tour of the numerous chapels, and then came up into the monks’ choir where I explained how the monks came here several times a day to recite their offices and prayers. Then we climbed the stone spiral stairs at the rear of the Nave and they sat quietly in the gallery listening to someone practising on the huge four-manual Walker organ. They could see the monks coming and going about their daily chores and one came into the church to light candles on the altar.

After five minutes or so, we left the church and wandered along to the recently opened teashop where we all enjoyed steaming mugs of hot chocolate and Ampleforth Abbey's own apple cake.

On our way back home we called in at the new visitor centre which tells the story of this Benedictine abbey through display panels, audio recordings and film. The boys quickly found the interactive quiz while we watched the videos of monks talking about their daily life and what the monastery means to them.

I think our little chaps quite enjoyed their afternoon and, hopefully, went away with a new found respect for tumbledown ruins.

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