ABBAYE N. D. DU BEC, NORMANDY
Drive down the old Route Rationale south-west of Rouen and after half an hour or so turn right onto the D39. After a couple of kilometres, the road takes a sudden rise, and you find yourself looking down upon the splendid 18th-c. abbatial buildings (1742-50). Turn in through the gateway, and you may share with the writer the feeling of coming home. Bee is just that sort of place.
The 15th-c. stone bell-tower has some flint flushwork motifs that would not be out of place in East Anglia, but the rest of the large abbey church shared the fate of Cluny. In the Middle Ages, Bee was a powerhouse of learning, renowned through Europe. Michael Ramsey regarded St Anselm, one of three monks from Bee to hold the primatial see (between 1093 and 1109), as the greatest Archbishop of Canterbury. Many English parishes were connected to Bee, some retaining their connection to this day.
Revived in the 17th century under the congregation of Saint-Maur, the Abbey fell victim to the Revolution, becoming an army depot. The monastic life returned to Bee in 1948, with the Benedictines of the congregation of Mont-Olivet, in their distinctive white habits; a parallel community of nuns has their monastery in a modern convent, right by where you turned off the main road. Active ecumenically, the Abbey has offered a welcome to many Anglicans. A unity candle burns every Thursday in the chapel, beside the inscription carved into the chapel wall which records the link between Bee and Canterbury.
At his Inauguration Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Let us do all we can to pursue the path toward the unity.’ We dare to go on praying the impossible dream: ‘Ut omnes unum sint.’