Thoughts about the History
I have been looking at the history of Little Malvern Priory and been asked to write a few pointers for us. I am not an expert and would welcome comments and contributions from everyone.
My feeling is that the site for Little Malvern Priory was chosen because it was already a sacred place for local people in pre-Christian times. I have no evidence for this, but the deep spirituality of the place which seems to touch so many and varied people seems to indicate this.
The Priory itself was a Benedictine daughter house to the bigger centre in Worcester.
Benedict means “good words” or “blessing” and is I think a very apt foundation for our little church.
It seems to have been built around the mid eleven hundreds, for a small group of monks (twelve or less) and it’s main purpose in addition to the regular, daily worship of God may have been to oversee agriculture in the area, for produce for Worcester etc.
The Benedictine order was especially encouraged to give hospitality to travellers and strangers, as any one of them might be God in disguise. (Do you remember the parable of the sheep and goats? Matthew Chap 25 vs. 31 - end). One can imagine the need for travellers to have a rest and something to eat and drink before trudging up and over the pass towards Herefordshire and maybe the tomb of St Thomas Cantaloupe in the Cathedral. Perhaps William Langland, the author of Piers Plowman was pleased to have a rest and sustenance here too before or after scrambling up to British Camp in the late thirteen hundreds.
A church in Oxfordshire where a cousin of mine worships has a novel way of perpetuating this service of hospitality. The church is on various walking routes, and they leave a packet of biscuits and a bottle of water in a basket tucked under a bench in the lychgate with a little welcome note encouraging people to partake in a spirit of fellowship (and not be too greedy!) Any uneaten biscuits are rescued before their sell by date and used for coffee after church services! Is this something we could do to make us a living part of the historical essence of Little Malvern Priory?
The foundation remained a Benedictine priory until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1534. Parts of the church and surrounding buildings had got very run down in 1480, when Bishop Alcock took it in hand, restored most of the building and had the stained glass put in the east end, some of which remains to inspire us now. The current building is simply the space under the tower and the chancel beyond. The original priory would have had a large nave stretching back the other side of the tower as well as side aisles and transepts. It would also have been an integral part of the monastery, connected to the cloisters etc, the remains of which are in Little Malvern Court.
It will no doubt have been the hub of a little local community, serving both it’s spiritual and it’s physical and health needs as well as catering for travellers.
Not much seems to have changed, does it? And I believe we should give thanks for that as well as try to find ways to make God’s message and gifts accessible to our current age and our successors.
More next time, probably about the bell, as I’m a bellringer!
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