Buckfast Abbey – 20th Century Geometric Patterned Art and Architecture Using Traditional Principles

by David Clayton on October 15, 2013

I spent a few days at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England recently (I was part of the Maryvale Institute’s residential summer school Art, Beauty and Inspiration from a Catholic Perspective). There seem to be good things going on there liturgically – the Sunday Mass I attended (in the Ordinary Form) all the Ordinaries and Propers were chanted in Latin and there is a Mass for the Anglican Ordinariate offered there each Sunday too. The abbot there, as I understand it, is keen to promote the abbey as a focus of Catholic learning for the southeast of England and clearly, if he is hosting the Maryvale Institute, is interested in an orthodox presentation of the Faith. It has been said that historically the Benedictine monasteries of the post-classical period of Christianity preserved and developed learning, this

The abbey was reestablished on an ancient abbey site at the end of the 19th century and the church and buildings were erected in the first years or so of the 20th century. The design of both shows an awareness of ancient traditions in proportion that have their roots in pre-Christian classical culture. The facilities for hosting this sort of residential course are excellent and they are being developed further. There is much new building going on at Buckfast in order to help it develop the vision that the abbot has for the community.

It is interesting that as recently as most of the main abbey buildings were built, how much of the tradition is in evident (it also highlights how much was lost and when we think that within twenty years you are seeing modernist churches being built). In the main body of the church there is an opus sectile work on the floors and the traditional designs that would be seen, for example, in the floors of many gothic period churches in Rome. Over the main entrance we see a stone carving of Christ in Majesty in the mandorla (created by the intersection of two circles, with the centre of each on the circumference on the other). We see the quincunx (where four circles spin out of a central shape – a geometric representation of the four Evangelists taking the Word out to the four corners of the world); and the guilloche (a chain of connected circles and squares down). Also, I have shown a view of the outside of the guest house in which one can see the classical harmonic proportions (as described by Boethius for example in his De Arithmetica) indicated by three uneven storeys moving upwards in a rhythmical progression such that the first relates to the second as the second relates to the third.

 

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