Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tolleshunt Knights

I would have missed All Saints if I hadn't been pointed in the right direction by a kindly monk, Fr Philip, at the Greek Orthodox monastery of St John the Baptist. I know what you're thinking since I did as well:

The Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist is a monastic community for both men and women, directly under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is located in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex

The community consists of men and women living the monastic tradition of a Christ centered prayer life for the monastic members. Currently, the majority of the community are nuns (15-20), with a smaller number of monks.

The Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist had its beginnings largely in the person of Elder Sophrony (Sakharov). After his departure from Mount Athos and his subsequent move to Paris, he was to live in a Russian old-age home, assisting the priest.

In 1958, Elder Sophrony had six people living around him, seeking the monastic life. Realising that such a situation could not continue, he went to Tolleshunt Knights to inspect a property; in the spring of 1959, the new Community of St John the Baptist was formed at the same property, under the omophorion of Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh (Patriarchate of Moscow). The monastery, from its beginnings, had both monks and nuns, due to Elder Sophrony being unable to oversee two separate communities.

The Monastery of St John the Baptist moved under the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1965, becoming Patriarchal; later, the monastery would also be titled 'Stavropegic'.

So now you know - slightly odd to find a Greek orthodox monastery in the heart of east Essex but nice at the same time!

All Saints is at the end of the long and winding road leading you to the monastery and is, probably understandably, kept locked. It looks like it once had a tower which collapsed and was replaced with an extraordinarily ugly belfry and someone has stuck some hideous solar panels on the nave roof but its location makes up for its faults.

ALL SAINTS. No village is anywhere near the church. Nor did the church at the time of writing give the impression of being much cared for. Nave (with a bellcote probably of c. 1880) and chancel. The details not of special interest. - FONT. Late C14, square with traceried panels. - MONUMENT. Knight of c. 1380, holding his heart in his hands. Much defaced.

Monastery of St John the Baptist (2)

All Saints (1)

TOLLESHUNT KNIGHTS. It has one knight all forlorn. We found him at the end of a lane running by the railway to a farm and a church, the church in the shade of a cluster of tall trees. The knight is in the 14th century chancel, a curious stone figure in plate armour holding a heart in his hands, as he has done for five and a half centuries and more.

Simon K -

Redundant, reused by an Orthodox community. Locked, no keyholder. You come down from Tolleshunt Knights, a suburb of the town of Tiptree, almost two miles down a narrow lane, the line of a disused railway. About halfway you pass the Orthodox monastery, and they have ownership of the church now.

It was abandoned in 1957 and they saved it, but I am afraid that it is a poor, ramshackle thing, cracks in the walls and damp under the eaves. I imagine that the quietism of Orthodoxy will probably just let it fall.

As I cycled back up hill towards the monastery, a nun was walking down in the opposite direction, and can only have been going to the church, perhaps to set it up for the evening liturgy, but it seemed inappropriate to ask her if she had the key. We exchanged greetings, but I don't suppose my Greek or her English could have let me get across what I wanted.

If she had been an English nun, then of course I would have asked, and if she had been an Irish nun then no doubt she would have asked me! But the Orthodox church does not allow photographs of its icons,so there was little point in going inside unless I could do so unattended. 

In fact, I have actually been inside before, many years ago, about twenty I should think, on a field trip that Suffolk Education Authority ran for teachers, when Education authorities still did those things. It was 'spend a day in an Orthodox monastery', so how could I possibly resist. We attended the evening liturgy which went on for some two hours and was fabulous.


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