“a little piece of Jerusalem”
In the quiet of a Co Down valley something
stirred. Something that hadn’t happened in Ireland
for more than eight hundred years...
The beautiful pastoral setting
of the Kilbroney valley near Rostrevor
To the passerby in the picturesque Kilbroney valley,
near Rostrevor, the group of buildings that began
to take shape during 2003 probably looked like a new
hotel complex, or even a factory. What they were actually
witnessing was a little piece of history, the creation
of a new Benedictine monastery, reckoned to be the
first new one built in Ireland since 1183.
Lying in the shadow of the Mournes, Kilbroney
seems the perfect place to seek peace and tranquillity.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the valley
has significant historical spiritual links.
Kilbroney comes from the old Irish Cill Bronach
and means “the Church of Bronagh”.
St. Bronagh, a disciple of St Patrick was a
6th century abbess who lived a monastic life
in the valley.
Father Mark-Ephrem, the superior of the newly
resident Benedictine community, says that the
arrival of his present day monks represents
a renewal of monastic charism in the Irish church.
However, the founding of a new monastery arguably
seems to be out of step with the religious climate
of declining vocations. So why now and why in
It really began in 1983, when a community of Benedictines from the congregation
of Saint Mary Monte-Oliveto, in France, arrived
in Ireland. Living a largely hidden life of
prayer, their aspiration was interceding for
peace and the unity of Christians in Ireland.
It was said to be 'a gesture of communion
with the suffering Church in Ireland'. Sadly,
changing circumstances forced them to withdraw
from Ireland in 1987. They held firm to the
hope however that one day they'd be able to
return here and set up a permanent foundation.
The five monks in Rostrevor today are from that
same congregation and thus the long hoped-for
return has finally become a reality.
“…Our particular mission is to
contribute to the reconciliation between Catholics
and Protestants in a land marked by reciprocal
violence and stained by the blood of Christian
brothers and sisters.”
When they arrived in 1998 this second group of Benedictines
had nowhere to call home. They were offered accommodation
as guests in the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady
of Apostles in Rostrevor. They originally asked if
they could stay for about three months. They stayed
for six years, almost to the day.
Arriving in Northern Ireland having no funds to
speak of, the plan to build a monastery might have
seemed a somewhat fanciful notion but, in October
2000, a benefactor appeared and gave the community
a beautiful green field site in the valley on which
they could build their new home. Their distant dream
was going to become reality.
Foundations for church
Building a large structure on a greenfield
site has its own challenges and they needed
plans that would pass the planners. They needed
a good architect. They chose Brian Quinn, who
had experience of planning church buildings.
Brian’s first move was to go and live
with the monks for a while. He did this to see
how they lived, what they did and generally
get an insight into the activities and routines
that were important to them. Only by gaining
this insight and understanding, he felt, could
he sit down and design a complex of buildings
which would be functional, affordable, aesthetically
pleasing and meet the specialist requirements
of a modern monastery, a difficult enough task
you might think. Balancing those parameters
with the requirements to gain planning permission
was no easy challenge.
Turning the first
sod on the new site
|History was made on 6th November
2002, upon the Feast of All Saints of Ireland,
when the the land was officially blessed and the
first sod was turned on the new building site.
This was to be the first new Benedictine monastery
in this land for more than 800 years. Soon afterwards,
building work began on the foundations of the
retreat centre, which was phase one of the overall
|Over the weeks and months that
followed, Father Mark remained intensely involved
with the building programme. He worked closely
with both the architect and the “master
builder”, Maurice McGivern, planning, fine-tuning
and executing each stage of the project and making
any adjustments along the way as they were needed.
Building a house can be complicated and frustrating
enough, but this was a very major undertaking
for all concerned and it had to be done right.
Very gradually over the next year a greenfield
area grew foundations, which rose into walls and
slowly the general shape of the monastery-to-be
The cornerstone of
the new Church
On Sunday 29th of June 2003,
Most Reverend Dr John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore,
blessed the cornerstone of the future church
of Holy Cross Monastery. A scroll had been prepared
which outlined the community’s history
since its arrival to Northern Ireland and was
read by Dom Eric. This was then co-signed by
the Bishop and the Superior of the Monastery,
before being enclosed in a stainless steel cylinder
and sealed inside the cornerstone, made of Mourne
The cornerstone bears the inscription from
Ephesians: “Jesus Christ is himself the
Not all of the materials were sourced locally.
The altar in the church is hewn from a single
piece of Jerusalem stone. Father Mark refers
to the new monastery as “a little piece
Marie McStay has maintained close contact with
this story throughout its evolution and, in
December 2003, she visited Father Mark-Ephrem
at the building site as the monastery was in
its last stages and very near completion.
Fr Mark-Ephrem talking
to Marie McStay
She talked to all of the monks as well as
Brian Quinn the architect and Maurice McGivern,
the builder. Her report was broadcast on Your
Place & Mine on Saturday 17th January 2004,
the day before the monastery was officially
We also filmed the activity around the building
site on that day and we couldn’t help
remarking that the last time such an event took
place in Ireland there was no sound recording,
no radio, no photography and no video. So we
have the privilege of bringing you such a record
of events. You can share the sense of history
by listening to Marie’s report and watching
to Marie’s radio report.
Michael Blair - Jan '07
I spent Christmas at the monastery this year and was
transported quite soon to the world of the Benedictine
monks. Guests are welcomed as Christ and indeed we
were, myself and John and Peter and the other very
special guest Father Mark's mother who lives locally
and came to stay over the Christmas period. The
services were beautiful and the singing and chanting
seemed to bring us closer to God - made sooner by
the marvelous acoustics and the resonance of the
building. The feeling that a whisper of a prayer
was going straight up to Heaven through the wooden
right angle triangles set all along the roof space.
The silence of the atmosphere after the services
were also conducive to Contemplation although a little
difficult to get used to to start with. The food
and the Refectory eating with the monks was a marvellous
experience and the French cooking superb. A very
special Privelege to spend Jesus's birthday in such
a quiet and unique place . Many thanks to Father
Mark and all!
the Benedictine monks at The Holy Cross Monastery . I pray for you all and would
ask you to also pray for me, for John and for Peter. May God bless you all
The finished monastery with
the church in the centre
The interior of the church
Although they live their daily lives in strict accordance
with ancient rules and principles, the monks are well
in tune with modern technology and communications.
On St Benedict’s day 2003 (21st March) they
launched their own website which you can visit at:
There you can find much more depth, detail and history
about the Bendictine community.
In July 2003 the monks recorded a CD of their
plainsong called “Peace upon you”.
to a sample of their singing here.
(Click on a face to read