The Benedictine Monks of Solesmes have just finished celebrating 1,000 years of history of this Monastery on the River Sarthe near Sable in France. This Abbey, known universally for its scholarship in Gregorian chant can trace its origins back 1,000 years. From Solesmes, other Monasteries have been founded – in this country, Quarr Abbey, and St. Cecelia’s Abbey, both on the Isle of Wight.
Zenit have published the following account of these celebrations:
The millennial anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the French Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter in Solesmes concluded on Tuesday with a solemn Eucharistic liturgy sung with Gregorian chant.
The ceremony was presided over by Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, as special papal envoy, and concelebrated by Cardinal Jean Pierre Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, France, and numerous bishops and priests.
Many men and women religious, Catholic faithful and laypeople of other religions also attended the closing of the Jubilee Year, which opened on Oct. 12 of last year, of this emblematic abbey in the Diocese of Le Mans.
Cardinal Tauran addressed the contemplatives of this abbey, acknowledging their efforts to “help those who doubt; you seek God to give him to others.”
Man, without faith “remains only before himself,” he said.
In this connection, the cardinal told Vatican Radio that “this great abbey, dominated by the figure of Dom Gueranger, restorer of Gregorian chant, reminds today’s society of the need for an interior life, understood in the widest sense; hence, not only a spiritual life, but also a cultural life.”
The prelate noted that the monks of Solesmes invite us to “appreciate silence in order to understand what we are and where we are going.”
He highlighted the 1,000 years of the abbey’s fidelity to the Gospel and pointed out that in today’s world monasteries are spiritual oases, the “green lungs in our cities.”
Abbot Philippe Dupont of Solesmes explained that “this millennium gives us the opportunity to review the past, not to contemplate it with nostalgia, but to give thanks for God’s gifts and to learn the lessons of this history to think about our future.”
In an interview published on the Web site of the Bishops’ Conference of France, the abbot said that “our tradition is alive and must be perpetuated in the course of the centuries and millennia profiting from the holiness of those who have preceded us, ourselves having the responsibility to transmit this heritage, this patrimony to our successors.”
Speaking about his vow of stability, the religious noted that to remain in a monastery for 60 years “questions our contemporaries.”
“We must witness duration, perseverance before the people of the world,” he said. “While so many families break up and friendship is often questioned, we must manifest this eternal value that is stability.”
“One thousand years of presence in the same place shows the reality of this permanence,” the abbot added.
Abbot of Solesmes since 1992, he also talked about Gregorian chant, which has made the monks of this community famous.
“Gregorian liturgical chant also has a traditional value of stability in the prayer of the Church because it has gone across the centuries,” he said.
Abbot Dupont explained that “after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI asked us to continue this tradition so that Gregorian chant would be preserved not as a treasure relegated to a museum, but as a living prayer that helps souls ascend to God.”
He said that it is about “a more interior prayer: Its gentleness but also the force and violence of some melodies, express adequately the many sentiments of praise and supplication of men addressing God in all kinds of situations.”
The Abbey of Solesmes was founded at the beginning of the 11th century by Geoffrey, Lord of Sable, who donated the monastery with its lands to the monks of the Abbey of La Couture.
From La Couture came, hence, the first monks that would constitute a community in Solesmes under the Rule of St. Benedict.
Sacked and set on fire during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the monastery went through a period of renovation until the time of the French Revolution, when the Constituent Assembly prohibited religious vows.
At the beginning of 1791, the monks began to leave the monastery, and those who wished to remain there were imprisoned or deported to the Island of Jersey.
During those difficult years, the abbey’s neighbors were able to put in a safe place the relic of the Holy Thorn, which was not returned to the monastery until 1850.
In those years, Solesmes began to take up its activity again thanks to a young priest of Le Mans, Father Prosper Gueranger, who fostered Gregorian chant as a privileged way of seeking and praising God.
Today the congregation of Solesmes is present on three continents and has 23 monasteries for men and eight for women.
For further information regarding Vocations within the Benedictine Congregation please visit www.benedictines.org.uk