VISITORS to some of English Heritage’s most famous monastic properties will be asked to put down their phones and join in a daily hour of silence and contemplation this autumn.
The organisation is asking visitors to some of its abbeys and priories, including the famous ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, in Yorkshire, to turn off notifications, finish their conversations, and enter into the spirit of the place that they are visiting.
The “hour of contemplation” is being trialled for a month at 16 sites, prompted by the past 18 months of Covid-19, during which many people have been forced to go online for work and socialising.
A senior properties historian at English Heritage, Dr Michael Carter, said: “For those who lived there, these monastic buildings offered an opportunity to live the heavenly life here on earth, and discover a spiritual inner peace. Throughout the centuries, people have turned to the monasteries now in the care of English Heritage as havens of contemplation and places of spiritual and physical renewal.
“With many people having experienced a very difficult past 18 months, we’re inviting visitors to escape from their cares for a short time, using the quiet, the sound of the birdsong, the rustle of the wind in the trees, to contemplate and free their minds and spirits of the busy, noisy, demanding distractions of contemporary life.
“In a modern world, where people are constantly rushing and expected to be at the end of a phone 24/7, we often find silence disconcerting. It’s important sometimes to take a step back, centre yourself, and focus on appreciating the peace and tranquillity that is unique to these historic buildings — monuments to the human spirit and the divine, our ongoing quest for inner peace and fulfilment.
“St Aelred of Rievaulx, describing the majestic Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, wrote ‘Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world’, and we hope to offer this feeling of serenity to our visitors.”
English Heritage sites have experienced a surge in visitors since lockdown restrictions eased: many more families and groups have visited over the summer.
A senior properties curator for Rievaulx Abbey, Mark Douglas, said that abbeys and priories would have been noisy places at times in the medieval period: bells would have been ringing, and work in the gardens and kitchens would have been under way; but at their heart was contemplative silence.
The hour of contemplation, he said, was “purely a personal choice”, but it was hoped that it would give people “a nudge” to take time out. “No one will be be forced to take part, but Rievaulx is naturally conducive to tranquillity,” he said.