Ampleforth Abbey

24 February 2018

For more detailed information about our history, visit our Archivist's website, Plantata.

The History of the Ampleforth Community

The monks didn't settle at Ampleforth until 1802, but the community goes back long before that...

The Monks of Westminster

Although the English Benedictines had been dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s, one solitary monastery was re-established in Westminster Abbey by the Catholic Queen, Mary Tudor, 20 years later. After only a few years, her half-sister Queen Elizabeth dissolved this monastery again. By 1607 only one of the Westminster monks was left alive – Fr Sigebert Buckley.

In Exile in France

He professed a group of English monks in France, and so passed onto them the rights and privileges of the ancient English Benedictine Congregation. In 1615, these English monks took up residence in an abandoned  church of St Laurence at Dieulouard, near Nancy in north-east France. The penal laws against Catholics meant that monasteries and Catholic priests were illegal in England. Many of the monks, though, were given permission to leave their monasteries to work secretly as priests in England. One monk of this English monastery in France, Alban Roe, was executed in January 1642 and was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

For an illustrated presentation about this part of our history, click here.

The monastery at Dieulouard

The Return to England

In 1792 the monks were expelled from France as part of the violence associated with the French Revolution. As luck would have it, about the same time, Fr Anselm Bolton had taken up residence in a lodge at Ampleforth. He had been the chaplain of Lady Anne Fairfax at Gilling Castle, just two miles away (now the site of our Preparatory School). She had built Ampleforth Lodge for him just before she died, but in 1802 Fr Anselm handed the house over to his brethren to be their new monastery. In the following year (1803) the new monastery school was opened.

Schools and parishes

The school had been an important feature of life in France: English Catholics had sent their boys to France to be educated during penal times, and many of these boys had become monks and priests. This close relationship was to continue when the monks returned to England.

During the next century the monks continued to work both in the college (which then had about 70 boys), and on the missions. They worked particularly in the new town parishes of the industrial revolution: South Wales, Liverpool and Warrington, the Preston area and in Cumbria.

Modern Ampleforth

In 1900 the major monastic houses became independent Abbeys with their own elected Abbot. At this time Ampleforth was a community of just under 100 monks and the first Abbot of Ampleforth was Fr Oswald Smith, who continued in office until his death in 1924. He was succeeded as Abbot by Fr Edmund Matthews, who appointed Fr Paul Nevill as Headmaster of the school. Under the leadership and guidance of these two men, the school was transformed into the great public school it is today.

At its height in the mid-1960s there were 169 monks in the community. Although the community is now half that size, the monks continue to work in the schools, on parishes, and in the hospitality apostolate offering retreats and courses to the thousands of visitors who come to Ampleforth each year.

The eighth Abbot of Ampleforth, Fr Cuthbert Madden, was elected on 15 February 2005 and re-elected in 2013.