Pluscarden Abbey South Range Project
A new Visitor Centre was opened at Pluscarden Abbey in June 2017. This is to promote the restoration of the South Range of the Abbey, where a new wing will be built in the same style as the rest of the Abbey. The new wing will house a retreat centre for ladies, a library, a service area, accommodation for a disabled person and carer or a family, a refectory and workshops. In the Visitor Centre, people can learn about the history of this mediaeval Abbey which was founded by King Alexander II of Scotland in the year 1230. At the same time grants were made to two sister houses, Beauly in Ross-shire and Ardchattan in Argyll. Neither of these two building have been restored and are now ruins. The monks of these three priories were Valliscaulians, a little known order that shared some of the Carthusian discipline with the spirit of fellowship of the Benedictines.
The Valliscaulians were founded about 30 years earlier in Burgundy, France at the Abbaye du Val-des-Choux. Only at these three places was this order represented in Britain. The Priory of Val-des-Choux, the parent house, is now a private family home. The French monks must surely have found at Pluscarden, an echo of the parent house in Burgundy, as their new Priory nestled in the valley at the foot of a densely forested hill. In fact, the old name for the Pluscarden valley, the Kail Glen is simply a translation into Scots of the French Val-des-Choux. It is now called the Vale of St Andrew.
At the Visitor Centre, visitors can donate a slate for £10. This slate will go on the roof of the new building. People are encouraged to write something on the slate. It can be a simple message, for example your name, the names of family members, or in memory of someone, or anything else you may wish to write on the slate. If anyone is unable to get to Pluscarden, a slate can be brought to St Mary’s Church Nairn, for them to sign. Should you wish a slate to be brought to the church for you to sign, please contact the Parish Priest Fr Damian Martell or the Webmaster with your request.
In order to start fund raising for the South Range Project, a Pilgrimage took place this year, from Val-des-Choux where the original monks came from to Pluscarden Abbey. This did take a great deal of planning so that everything would go smoothly. The aim, as well as raising money for the final restoration of the Abbey is to establish a new and major Pilgrimage route along the lines of Camino De Santiago in Spain. This will be consolidated by a documentary about the walk and hopefully a book will also be written about it. Pluscarden Abbey is the only mediaeval monastery in Britain where monks still live and work. If you have never visited it before it is well worth a visit.
The Pluscarden 1230 Pilgrimage
The journey of the Valliscaulian monks from Burgundy to Pluscarden Abbey has recently been repeated by pilgrims, covering a distance of around 1,300 miles. One lady and a man with his Labrador dog Rinnes walked the whole 1,300 miles. The pilgrimage took 13 weeks and was walked by different groups of pilgrims, walking around 100 miles a week. They walked from Monday till Saturday, and Sunday was a day of rest. Some people walked for more than one week.
There was always a monk who was a priest with each group and sometimes there was more than one monk with the group. Each day had a religious framework with daily Mass and the Divine Office, together with some talks about the religious background of the pilgrimage and the sites they visited on the way. The physical challenge of the actual walk, with the opportunity for quiet reflection and prayerful focus made the walk a powerful spiritual experience, one shared by thousands of pilgrims down the centuries. A stone was carried by the modern pilgrims from the Abbaye du Val-des-Choux all the way to Pluscarden. This was dedicated on 17th September at a special service at Pluscarden Abbey.
The pilgrims left Val-des-Choux on 5th June and arrived back at Pluscarden on the 1st September, a beautiful day for the finale, blue sky, sunshine and no midges. 21 pilgrims set off from Logie in the morning, gathering another 20 + 12 children from Mosstowie primary school at Rafford, 6 miles from Pluscarden, and another 30 pilgrims, a mile out from the abbey. A wonderful and happy procession arrived at the abbey gates which had been beautifully decorated with flowers. Father Abbot and the Pluscarden community were at the gates to greet the long line of pilgrims, along with their cheering relatives and friends. The gates were opened and everyone walked up the drive behind the Pluscarden Abbey flag, with the children carrying flags from all the countries passed through by the pilgrimage. There was a very moving ceremony in the abbey to hand over the stone carried all the way from Val-des-Choux in Burgundy, followed by some words from the Father Abbot and Archbishop Mario Conti, then a splendid lunch. It was lovely that many pilgrims from earlier weeks were able to join in on the final day and wonderful that lifelong friendships have been formed. A very memorable and moving day!
Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent, royal patron of the Pluscarden 1230 Pilgrimage, attended a special ceremony at Pluscarden Abbey on Sunday 17th September to dedicate an ancient stone carried throughout the pilgrimage. The stone came from the ruins of the Abbaye at Val-des-Choux in Burgundy. The Princess placed a Benedictine medal in a niche which had been special carved into the stone and then it was sealed. The stone will be displayed at the heart of the abbey’s proposed South Range wing.