First, a few photos of what I saw when I arrived by taxi from the Sheffield Train Station. I flew from home, to Chicago, to London Heathrow airport, then flew to Manchester Airport and then took the train to Sheffield.
This picture below is of the road that runs along the front of the monastery at the entrance – the red box on the far left is the monastery’s mail box:
(Below: the entrance into the monastery. The building in the foreground is called the “Lodge” and this is where I stayed – more on the Lodge in Part II.)
The picture below is inside the grounds and shows the long driveway up to the monastery:
Below is another picture of the driveway that takes you to the monastery:
The picture above is also the beautiful sight I saw out the windows of the flat I stayed in the Lodge. At night this view of the monastery was particularly beautiful as one light would shine in a window on the upper floor of the section of the monastery that is in the background behind the stone wall. Then there was weather elements that made the scene so mysterious and hauntingly beautiful like the fog that would roll in from the moors and encase the monastery. I would gaze out this window and long with every beat of my heart, every cell in me to be on the other side of that wall, sleeping in a cell on a straw mattress knowing that I was finally home and my search and longing was done, over and that I would arise in the early morning to the mattaraque and start and end my day with God and in His presence.
So for my visit….upon arriving, still in the taxi (and probably wigging out the taxi driver!), I was beyond excited and felt I had arrived home from a long – too long! – journey or a nightmare vacation! I was speechless! I knew had FINALLY found my Carmel! My home! I have been asking God to please tell me which community in the order of Carmel He wanted me in so I could stop the endless searching! Well, I really feel He DID! I knew the moment I was in the driveway and still in the taxi! Just the SIGHT of the monastery had my heart thumping – love at first sight! Then it grew in leaps and bounds when I met Mother and entered the chapel and then on and on when I talked with all the sisters – except one sister who is in the infirmary. This is such a true, authentic and traditional Carmel! I kept expecting St. Teresa of Avila to walk through the parlor door behind the sister I was talking to every time I was at the parlor grille!
On the way up the stairwell to parlors is a landing between two flight of stairs that was a beautiful window:
(Below: St. Joseph’s parlor where I had all my visits except one – this was in the St. Teresa parlor but I forgot to take a picture of!)
(Below: another picture of St. Joseph’s parlor, the fireplace.)
YOU should visit them if you can at all! ALL the sisters are incredibly loving, warm, funny, open and were so overwhelmed with excitement that I could finally come! I told Mother that they were the only sisters I had EVER met who I loved and felt they WERE my actual sisters and my Mother or my Aunts or something! It was like old home week instead of a stranger (me) meeting strange nuns (them)! Mother said the same and said she had never felt more at home with someone!
They have double grilles in the chapel and the 3 parlors and then thick wooden doors closing them off on their side. When Mother first came to the parlor, she kneeled down on a prayer stool! They have no chairs in the parlor, just a prayer stool or one of those little wooden stools Carmels have with the slot in the top to carry it.
Once during a parlor visit, Mother was so wonderful and showed me the parts of their habit they wear. She sat on a stool and put up her leg to show me the stockings they wear! They wear a white tunic underneath and the sleeves go to the elbow and sewn on to this were brown sleeves, then a skirt with pockets in the front and the habit over that and the scapular and rosary and belt and the veil and head piece. I thought it was an under veil – it was like a parlor veil. But they do not tuck in their veil at all (as some US Carmels do), just as St. Therese didn’t – they are a French Carmel. Now they do some tucking or pinning back while working for tasks that require it – as in this photo:
– like on their website of the sisters cleaning the chapel. But for the majority of the chores the veil is just out, loose.
They wear the same habit of St. Therese with white part (forget what it’s called – toque, coif?) showing on the shoulders – same habit all round. This Carmel has ALL that I wanted in a Carmel and hadn’t found! Even down to the habit! They make and wear the same shoes that St. T of Avila wears! The alparagates (spelling?) – the rope sandals!
Their public Chapel is so beautiful and the silence in the chapel (and everywhere else too!) was incredible! As they are on the edge of the moors and inside the national park/reserve area, there can never be any building near them. Even outside there was no noise. There was an occasional car sound driving by – barely audible that I heard at the Lodge where I stayed that is right near the road but even then, the silence and beauty of the surrounding land was breath taking!
(Above: Nuns choir grille on the left.)
(Above: beautiful marble statue of St. Therese beside the grille to the nun’s choir.)
(Below: side altar to Our Lady that is on the right of the mail altar.)
The chapel/choir has a big grille and has 2 sets of doors on it and the way they are situated the public can’t see them at all – they can only be heard. They have a small communion window door that opens for communion for the sisters. I took some pictures and then the batteries I had died and I couldn’t take any more! They recite the Our Father at the end of the Intercessory prayers so slow also! You can meditate, savor, think about and really pray each word – just as St. T did in her writing of the Our Father.
(Above: in public chapel – far left is nun’s choir with grille and in middle is nun’s communion grille with door that opens so they may receive Our Lord in the Eucharist at mass.)
(Below: outside front entrance of chapel.)
During my visit, I did not use this outside front entrance to enter the chapel. I used the small entrance (just past the chapel door in picture above where you see a small brown sign on wall near a pipe) that has a smaller door that enters into a very small lobby like area where there is a window with a grille and a turn (you can see some of this window and grille in this picture below:)
There is a door that you go through that is to the right of this grilled window and turn (not visible in picture) that leads you into and through the Sacristy, down a few steps and into the chapel. As the sisters only have a handful of people for daily mass, it is easier for them to keep the outside entrance door locked during the weekdays and then in the morning and night, unlock and lock this small door in the lobby that goes into the Sacristy and chapel.
(Below: Sacristy pictures. There is a turn for the priest to give or receive items from the nuns when he is there, a table with his vestments for mass and any notices or anything needed for the mass and then a picture of the large crucifix on the Sacristy wall.)
There was also another smaller parlor, called the Dining Parlor which has a small double grilled speaking grille in the same room – about 2.5 ft by 3 ft or something:
(Below: Dining Parlor grille, my mini dining table to the right. To jump ahead in my story, this is the parlor grille I got my joyful and heart stopping news that all the sisters had accepted me for entrance as a postulant! – on second to last day of my visit.)
In the dining parlor, there is a cabinet with a big drawer to the right of the table. This drawer can be pulled far out on the visitor side and then slid way in to the sisters side – this is how they deliver your trays of food to you. It was funny having to talk into the drawer to the sister on the other side if she asked me if I was ok and needed anything or had enough to eat! Boy did I! I think I gained 10 lbs on this visit! ha!
(Above: my dining table and the “secret” cupboard with draw that acts like a turn and is accessible on my side and the nun’s side.)
(Below: the rest of the Dining Parlor – this chair and fireplace is behind the table.)
Continued…….Part II tomorrow.