Connecting with our history at Westbury-on-Trym

First published 3rd October 2023

Benedictine monks visiting Westbury-on-TrymFather Andre Hart from Holy Trinity, Westbury-on-Trym explores how his church has been connecting with its history

Every church in the diocese has a history - be it for many centuries or for some decades if not just years! At Westbury on Trym we celebrated our 1300th anniversary with great fanfare in 2017 and it spurred us to investigate further our roots and origins. The church in Westbury has over the centuries had many ups and downs and was part of the diocese of Worcester in those early days. As the bishops and the abbots came and went, so did the fortunes of the church in Westbury. What became apparent over these many years was the influence of the Benedictines who did much work over these years developing the ministry and mission of the church in this rather quiet corner of the diocese.

On the back of this discovery, we made a pilgrimage in 2017 to Worcester from where the first Benedictine monks came. To celebrate our long-standing links, a number of us went by bike and rode there and others did a walk to the Cathedral and were warmly welcomed when we got there for a festival Evensong. A number of these Benedictine monks came from the Worcester Abbey to work in Westbury on Trym establishing the church. But the origins of these monks we learnt was actually from Fleury Abbey in France, and so in time, we went to visit the Benedictine Community in Fleury with a good group from the parish. We were once again warmly welcomed and to our surprise, they knew much about us and our historic links. A second visit was made with our church choir and congregation a year later, singing in the Abbey during the mass and also singing the Sunday mass at Orleans Cathedral. During this time, we made some firm friendships with the monks and have come to appreciate our deep roots back in France.

Brother Joseph, the new Abbot Matthieu and Brother Theophan visiting BristolThis year we heard that a new abbot has been elected and by tradition, the new abbot always visits Winchester Cathedral - the Motherhouse of the Benedictines in England up to the Reformation. The difference this time was that the new abbot would also come to visit us in Westbury as well. Never has the abbot of Fleury Abbey come to Westbury, so a great celebration was planned for them. Three of the community came to visit us for four days, Brother Joseph, the new Abbot Matthieu and Brother Theophan [seen in the image to the right].  It was their first visit to Bristol and we gave them a good tour culminating in a festival mass celebrated by the abbot in French in the parish church, with permission given by the Bishop of Clifton. Truly a historic moment for us all.

What has been wonderful for us as a church fellowship over these recent years has been the growth of love and friendship between the Feury monks and ourselves crossing the denomination, language and culture barrier.  The appreciation of the faith being brought by missionaries, like those monks of old, and shared across the centuries and of which we are the benefactors today, has given us great joy.  We have been building on this relationship over the years and plan to visit the community in France in the village of St Benoit sur Loire in 2025.

We are thankful for this new part of our identity that has enriched us and served us well. God is good and his mission to the world goes forward with the prayer and witness of the religious life of the church and also ourselves in Westbury on Trym. If you have not looked into your rich history, please do and you will probably be surprised!

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