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16 October 2014
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Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor.

The first Benedictine Monastery to be built in Ireland since 1183?

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“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...

Monastery building-site in the Kilbroney valley
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.

Cross of St. Bronagh
Cross of
St Bronagh
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 Rostrevor?


St. Benedictine
St. Benedict


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 at the monastery site 2003
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 sode on the building site
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 plan.


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 emerged. The interior of the church during building


The cornerstone of the monstery
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 Granite.

The cornerstone bears the inscription from Ephesians: “Jesus Christ is himself the Cornerstone”.

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 of Jerusalem”.



Father Mark-Ephrem, the superior, talks to Marie McStay of "Your Place & Mine"
Fr Mark-Ephrem talking to Marie McStay
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.

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 opened.

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 our video…


Listen to Marie’s radio report.

Watch the video.


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, January 2004
The finished monastery with the church in the centre



The finished church interior, January 2004
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”.

Listen to a sample of their singing here.

The Benedictine Monks in song

Click on a face to see the nameDom Benoit M. CharletR. Dom Eric M. LoiselDom Pascal M. JouyR. Dom Thierry M. MarteauxR. Dom Mark-Ephrem M. Nolan  (Superior)
(Click on a face to read the name)
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