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Drinking from an ancient well

27 January 2017

For those who are looking for a spiritually meaty retreat in 2017, Alison McTier looks at those that draw on ancient Christian traditions

Indigenous spirituality: retreats with a Celtic influence are on offer at Shepherds Dene, an Edwardian country estate in Northumberland

Indigenous spirituality: retreats with a Celtic influence are on offer at Shepherds Dene, an Edwardian country estate in Northumberland

RETREATS today come in all shapes and sizes — from writers’ retreats or creative journalling to painting retreats or walking ones — giving more choice and accessibility to all. Among the panoply of all that is on offer, of no less importance are those grounded in ancient spiritual practices, around which the tradition first emerged.


Lectio divina
Lectio divina is a Benedictine practice of reflecting on scripture that has been used since the time of St Benedict in the 16th century. In its purest form, it involves reading a passage of scripture, followed by meditation, further prayer, and contemplation. Instead of being a theological study of the text, this practice is intended to develop an increased knowledge and experience of God. Lectio divina is widely used today, and can be meaningful in both an individual and a group setting.

• Douai Abbey, Reading, is offering a Lectio Divina retreat from 23-26 May (phone 0118 971 5310; www.douaiabbey.org.uk).


Celtic spirituality
Celtic spirituality is rooted in the earliest form of Christianity known to the British Isles. It is characterised by a love and respect for the natural world, of community, and of hospitality. More specifically, it encourages an awareness of God’s presence in everything and all places, based around a community that gives welcome to all. Today, we owe much to the Celtic tradition, including art, pilgrimage, and the practice of sharing faith with a soul friend — often now called “spiritual direction”.

• Shepherds Dene, Northumberland, is holding a creative retreat with a Celtic focus from 8 to 10 February; a retreat day following in the footsteps of the Northern Saints on 2 April; and a creative workshop creating the Freehand Celtic Knot (then using it in prayer) from 9 to 12 October (phone 01434 682212; www.shepherdsdene.co.uk).

• The Ammerdown Centre, near Bath, is organising a creative retreat with a Celtic focus, from 8 to 10 June. For more details phone 01761 433709, or visit www.ammerdown.org.

• Noddfa, in Conwy, Wales, is holding a Celtic spirituality retreat from 15 to 18 May. For more details phone 01492 623473, or visit www.noddfa.org.uk.


Individually guided retreats

If you are looking for a retreat with more of an individual focus, you may be interested in an individually guided retreat (or IGR). These generally follow the tradition of St Ignatius of Loyola and Ignatian spirituality, rooted in the 16th century. An IGR gives you the opportunity to focus on God within the context of your own life and circumstances.

You will be discouraged from other distractions (such as mobiles and the internet) that may otherwise get in the way of this valuable time of silence and quiet reflection. Each day, you will meet your trained guide, who will listen and may offer suggestions for continued reflection and prayer. IGRs often follow a specific format of, for example, three, five, six, or eight days.


The following offer short introductions to IGRs (some also offer longer IGRs):

• Penhurst, East Sussex (phone 01424 892088l; www.penhurst.org.uk).

• The Oblate Retreat Centre, Crewe (phone 01270 568653; www.orc-crewe.org).

• Manresa Jesuit Centre, Dublin (phone 00 353 1 833 1353: www.manresa.ie).


The following offer IGRs of between five and eight days:

• Society of the Sacred Heart, Brecon (phone 01874 622902; www.llannerchwen.org.uk).

• St Oswald’s Pastoral Centre, Whitby, North Yorkshire (phone 01947 810496; www.stoswaldspastoralcentre.org.uk).

• House of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire (phone 01924 483346; www.mirfieldcommunity.org.uk).


The following offer IGRs by arrangement throughout the year:

• Sisters of St Andrew, Lewisham (phone 020 8852 1662; www.sisters-of-st-andrew.com).

• Chelmsford Diocese House of Retreat, Pleshey, Essex (phone 01245 237251; www.retreathousepleshey.com).

• Sclerder Abbey, near Looe, Cornwall (phone 01503 272238; www.chemin-neuf.org.uk).


The study of icons has long been used as a way of discovering a new meaning and understanding of God, through contemplation of a work of art. A number of retreat centres offer retreats based on icons.

• The Emmaus Centre, West Wickham, Kent, is offering an icon workshop retreat from 30 July to 4 August (phone 020 8777 2000; www.emmauscentre.org.uk).

• Minster Abbey, in Kent, offers icon-painting retreats (phone 01843 821254; www.minsterabbeynuns.org).

• The Monastery of our Lady of Hyning, Carnforth, Lancashire, offers a number of icon-writing (painting) workshops, including 28 March-1 April, and 16-20 May (phone 01524 732684: www.hyning.org).


Quiet days
If you want time with God, but do not have time to go on a retreat, quiet days are an option. There are a variety on offer throughout the year, in both an urban and a city context, including at the following retreat centres:

• Oasis days, Holborn, London (phone 07429 612642; www.oasisdays.org.uk).

• Community of Hopeweavers, Southampton (phone 023 8047 3680; www.hopeweavers.co.uk).

• Holland House, Cropthorne, Worcestershire (phone 01386 860330; www.hollandhouse.org).

• Nicholaston House, Gower, Wales (phone 01792 371317; www.nicholastonhouse.org).

• Foxhill House, Frodsham, Cheshire (phone 01928 733777; www.foxhillconferences.co.uk).


Alison MacTier is the executive director of the Retreat Association. For more details, visit www.retreats.org.uk.

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