St Gall. Blue/Red/Print of an Ideal Cloister

hat follows is a Utopia, that never was, is or will be, yet always is, a blueprinting of the One Body of Christ, of the love of God and neighbour. Indeed we take as our emblem the blue/red/print of an ideal cloister drawn on a manuscript at St Gall.


{An ecumenical and international monastic study programme, a 'School for Prayer', could have been offered at Holmhurst St Mary, in Sussex, using its library and guest rooms, with the possibility of appended travel study, linking with similar programmes in Florence and Jerusalem. Individual study retreats could have also been made. One such study retreat was given at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, another at Lee Abbey, Devon, both centred on Julian of Norwich. We could have provided conference and retreat facilities for other groups coming to us, such as parishes, Julian Meetings, Quakers, iconographers and calligraphers teaching their art in prayer, Alcoholics Anonymous and Oliveleaf retreats, international university programmes, and business corporations, and much else. We could have especially welcomed the shattered, the broken, those most in need of healing , being ourselves wounded healers. These ecumenical experiences could have been as a ' School for Prayer ', centred on the Lord's Prayer, on the love of God and neighbour, combining the best of the old with the new, mapping and networking, as do the monastic Offices that Julian would have said in her anchorhold, the Creator into the Creation.

Rather than the competitive university mode of education, or the modern 'modules' of Anglican theological colleges, the programmes would have been - and shall be - wholistic, designed to encourage and share 1) manual and skilled labour, used in monasticism for its sustenance, 2) monastic contemplative lectio divina and 3) contemplative worship, that balance, where the three, like the Trinity, are one, and which is essential to the monasticism of work, study and prayer, for body, mind and soul, using material as ancient as the Hebrew alphabet and as modern as the Internet, the world of the Word, for laity as well as clergy. Scholars were to have been - and shall be - encouraged to become literate in at least the alphabets of the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible and be introduced to the study of those languages and the paleography of their written texts, relating the Semitic invention of the alphabet to other codes, as in genetics and in computers. Dante's Vita Nuova and Commedia can be studied as a theological encyclopaedic 'summa' of great beauty and usefulness, written not only for men, but also for women and children. Readers and other participants can centre upon monasticism and spirituality, studying the mystical writings of women and men of the Church, including the movement of the Friends of God. . In addition participants can go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, visiting NazarethGalilee, Jordan, BethlehemJerusalemQumram and Sinai . The 'English Cemetery' of Piazzale Donatello, Florence, with its library, Holmhurst St Mary, with its library, and Jerusalem are like memory systems, like computers, like Dante's Commedia, like the Bible, with links to each other and all else. Students participating in the monastic study programme will do so in a quasi-cloistered context with time spent in silence, in contemplation, in prayer. The course of study will be designed for laypeople, for monastics, for clergy, for scholars. Essentially it is for those who place God and our neighbours first in our lives, as Godfriends, finding with that name there are no barriers, no boundaries between us.

Guests in the programme are expected to live - fully experiencing - the monastic balance of Work, Study and Prayer, balancing body, mind and soul, for the health and development of all three :

Simone Martini, Museo Horne, Florence.
Editrice Giusti de Becocci S.R.L., Florence, Italy.

WORK: Christ was a carpenter, his disciples, fishermen, Paul, a tentmaker. In Florence and Jerusalem men and women skilfully work with their hands and their bodies and restore churches and artifacts, such as paintings and furniture, and bind books and sew and embroider church vestments. These skills could be taught our monastic guests so that they may learn how church and furniture and painting restoration and book binding and restoration of books for libraries can be done, then can teach these skills in turn to young people, their children, their parishioners, so that they too will have a livelihood. There is no discrimination in Florence concerning work or study or prayer, the city reliving the Gospel 's teachings. We need to bring that perception to England, and help the young people in Hastings and Westfield with the skills that can give them hope, and the hope of families, a future to their lives. Holmhurst St Mary had beautiful grounds, a stone quarry, and stone walls. It had five chapels, beautiful classrooms, many bedrooms, many of these nuns' cells about an enclosed garden. Its rooms were named Arcadia, Utopia, its cells after Greek letters, its scullery was dedicated to Tuscan St Zita. The buildings could have been restored to William Morris and John Ruskin's concepts of hand-crafted and Italianate beauty, as in Agnes Mason, C.H.F.,'s Rule, returning to that time of great vitality in the Church of England. We could, in so doing, have taught stone masonry and carpentry, gardening and sewing, furniture restoration, cabinetry and picture framing. We could have taught sewing, embroidery, vestment making. We could have taught book-binding and book restoring, saving books in libraries from destruction from acid content in paper. We could have taught computing and library skills. And we could have had experts teach us calligraphy, iconography, which are sacred, manual skills. The Community could have had a charity shop, selling our products and those of needy persons in the Third World, an Oxfam shop, and, above all, of books. Alongside manual work we could teach have taught languages, with groups of young people from abroad coming to learn English and with their help maintain the buildings and grounds, in work camps, while participating temporarily in our monastic life, of work, study and prayer. 'Use it or lose it'. The body needing for its health, exercise, best done with work; the mind for its intelligence needing continuing study; above all, the soul needing the nourishment of prayer, contemplation, sacrament. Essentially the dream was of self-sufficiency, producing most of our food and building material from the land by our shared labour. And sharing that knowledge with others needing it for their families' and future support. Those living monastically in the Community could have worn Mother Agnes' original choice of denim work blue, rather than the black of Benedictinism and the black and grey of the Comunita` dei figli di Dio, as black is impractical in work settings. Mother Agnes chose blue because it is a labouring colour, Aaron's priestly colour, the Virgin's colour, Julian of Norwich's colour, and above all because it wouldn't scare the children the Sisters then taught. My Catholic spiritual director urged that I continue to wear my Anglican Community's working class blue.

STUDY: It was to have been expected of each guest in the programme to become first literate in the Hebrew and Greek alphabets and therefore able for the rest of their lifespan to be able to use polyglot Bibles and Strong's Exhaustive Concordance in order to understand the richness of the Bible's texts in their original languages. Even the cells at Holmhurst were named after the Greek letters, which in turn are named after the Hebrew ones, and thus are a 'memory palace' for its inhabitants. It was found from such language study that the original versions celebrate the ordinary person, not those with power, wealth or privilege. We are about Judaeo-Christianity, not about Rev. Dr Norman Vincent Peale's masonic abuse of Judaeo-Christianity. In Hebrew it is the smallest letter, yod (in Greek, iota, a jot, a tittle), which also means 'hand', that begins God's name. For God, as Aby Warburg said, is in detail. In the next village to Holmhurst is an Anglican vicar who has a degree in Classics and a degree in Oriental Studies, having Greek, Hebrew and Arabic, and who can help us in this area. We shall need to build up our library again or reacquire the one we had of 20,000 volumes in scriptural study in the original languages, Holy Land archeology, Church History, and the mystics. I continue to acquire many free books for this once and future library through reviewing them. Rather than formal courses we shall want a well-stocked library and silence in which Readers may immerse themselves in the 'vineyard of the text', contemplating upon these as in lectio divina . We do not wish to ape universities, though amongst us we have scholars with doctorates experienced in directing programmes, and those able to teach Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, English as a Second Language, paleography, scriptural study, Dante, Julian of Norwich, the Friends of God, the Oxford Movement/Pre-Raphaelites, and much else and able to do so monastically, without salary.

When Holmhurst St Mary was sold by the Trust and its library lost, we changed our focus to the English Cemetery of Piazzale Donatello. Our much smaller library, my collection of books as professor augmented by purchases made from four years of my pension to update Holmhurst St Mary's lost theological library, is housed here and is available to Italian and international readers. Here I am able to teach young people from Australia, from Sweden, from Norway, from Portugal, from America, about librarianship, computering, book-binding, paper marbling, gardening, housekeeping, sewing, embroidering, and they, likewise, teach me. While we share together the Hours of Prayer of the Church, using sometimes Anglican Offices, most of the time, Catholic Offices, and say Compline in the language of the guest in question, such as in Swedish or in Portuguese. I have shouldered the burden of attempting to learn my guests' languages, while expecting of them participation in the learning of Hebrew, Italian and English.

Don Divo Barsotti's books on contemplative, monastic theology, both Orthodox and Catholic, shall be translated into English. The products of our study shall be published on the Internet to be globally available for free and for all. One part of that publishing project shall be the sharing bilingually of Italian spirituality and culture for Italians living in English-speaking countries, like Australia and America, so that grandparents can share their heritage with their grandchildren, so families not lose their religion. Anglo-Italian relations will be strongly encouraged. Another part of that publication programme can be the telling of oliveleaf tales, such as that of An English Rose and Martha's Supplication, both stories told by women involving Holmhurst. Yet another in connection with Ireland and England, and with oliveleaf, could be on the telling of Famine tales. Holmhurst St Mary should have been a repository library, preventing sacred books being pulped, and treasuring sacred artifacts, keeping holy things from being sold as mere trinkets and junk. There was to have been reading aloud at one of the daily meals in the refectory, the reader eating after the others.

PRAYER: Guests were to have been expected, while in the programme, to participate in some or all of the monastic Offices, in scriptural readings, in communal silence, and in personal forms of prayer. The programme was to have begun and ended with the study of the Lord's Prayer. The Offices centre upon the Psalms. It has been said that the only greater gift to us than the Psalms and the Lord's Prayer is that of God himself. We were to have shared in Hebrew, Orthodox, Celtic spirituality and prayer. It could have been possible to celebrate the Taize Mass, where Catholics and Protestants simultaneously receive the Eucharist. We were to have left the high altar in the Holmhurst St Mary's Holy Family Chapel for Protestant use, Catholics having its Lady Chapel and altar for Mass, though our Offices were to have been shared, all coming together in the monastic stalls as the Royal Priesthood, lay and cleric, women and men, Protestant and Catholic.

We now share together the Hours of Prayer of the Church, using sometimes Anglican Offices, most of the time, the Catholic Offices, and we say Compline in the language of the guest in question, such as in Swedish or in Portuguese. I shoulder the burden of attempting to learn my guests' languages, while expecting of them participation in the learning of Hebrew, Italian and English. All that we do is to grow out of prayer and be done in prayer. In the God-centring of prayer, in the living of the Gospels, as Godfriends, as God's Family, we become Julian's 'even-Christians', each other's neighbour whom God has lovingly created. Christ, who speaks of us as his brothers, his sisters, his mother where we do his Father's will, desires to draw all to him. He willed to pray, and desired that we also join in that prayer to Our Father.

Andrea Della Robbia , Christ in Prayer, Santa Croce Sacristy, Florence

The Sisters of the Community of the Holy Family dress in blue with white or black veils depending on whether they are novices or professed. In so doing they are like Aaron, like the Virgin, like Christ in a Della Robbia, like Julian's Servant, Mother Agnes choosing this colour long before it became popular. In Della Robbia ware, two of which were at Holmhurst, we are the mortal clay, the terra cotta , that take on the colours of cloud and sky, the red of death becoming immortal white and blue.


I am now a Hermit, my Community of the Holy Family having gone away and my being sent away/sending myself away, so that I could live Mother Agnes Mason C.H.F's Rule . As a school girl at St Mary's and later there as a nun I found I could combine the old with the new. These skills, which I now use, book-binding, publishing, computing, internetting, with the Julian Library Portfolio , are intended to be shared and taught in turn to others. These possessions are for the Royal Priesthood , for women and men, old and young, that we may combine our hands, minds and souls, centring all of ourselves upon God and our neighbour. Just as did the first Christians who spread the Gospels around the shores of the Mediterranean and to the farthest reaches of their known world these are our Apostolate. Before I left Holmhurst St Mary I had helped start an ecumenical group in our convent's library who came to call ourselves Godfriends, after the medieval Friends of God . When I fled to Florence from Sussex, friends, especially Godfriends, encouraged me to continue, now in cyberspace. Here I found a Catholic, rather than Anglican Community, but with the same charism, for scriptural study and for the mystics. They arranged with the Cardinal of Florence that I be allowed, though Anglican (this meeting was like stepping into the painting I had restored at Holmhurst of the Cardinal meeting two cloistered nuns), to receive Communion from them on weekdays while being Reader in St Mark's English Church on Sundays. I had already made my Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, as Anglican, to God, 15 August 1996, in the church dedicated to St Mary and filled with paintings of the Holy Family on the road to Compiobbi. I have renewed these to God, now as Catholic, having been so anointed, 2 February 1998, and Consecrated in the Comunita` dei figli di Dio, 6 January 1999, renewing the Vows, Pentecost, 1999. I am also Quaker, believing in the teaching of the Christ within, that we live peaceably, truthfully, simply.

Godfriends are ecumenical, the wedding guests of the parables, the only exclusion being exclusion. The Community of the Holy Family is Anglo-Catholic. All of these communities are daughters of our Mother Church and all exist in a Sisterhood and Brotherhood sharing the ideals of my mother foundress, Agnes Mason, C.H.F. Amongst Godfriends is a priest/Benedictine/canon lawyer with experience as prior, college president and chancery judge, and many others, Catholic, Orthodox, including the iconographer and monk who gave us the Julian icon,


Godfriends (who are Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Jew, lay, clergy, monastic, women, men, young, old, sinners as well as saints), were willing to buy Holmhurst St Mary, to help the Holmhurst St Mary project, and among them are experts in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, computer technology, and in processes of healing, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Oliveleaf work. Our mission at Holmhurst St Mary could have brought to England the ecumenical Comunita` dei figli di Dio's four Branches, lay and monastic, centred on scriptural study, prayer, contemplation, bringing monasticism and contemplation to the laity and the world. It was intended to bring hope to young people with skills that could have helped their bodies, minds and souls, and those of their families generationally. We exclude no one in God's image and likeness, unless they insist on the exclusion of others. We are for the dying, for the aging, for the deaf, for those in their prime, for families, for men, for women, for the youthful and for children. We are for those who are despised in the world's eyes more than for those who are admired there. We are, above all, for the love of God and neighbour, for Christ and his teaching of charity.

Arthur James Mason

The Simone Martini diptych that illustrates this essay combines both the West and the East, both Byzantine stylization and the 'Word become flesh and dwelling in us', the Incarnationalism, of Florentine art. It is intended to be contemplated upon in prayer. It gives us God as Man and his Mother and ours, Alpha and Omega, birth and childhood and death and Resurrection. Mother Agnes Mason of the Community of the Holy Family ended her talk, the year I was born, to the Sisters, with the image of us as the One Body of Christ . I copied this dyptich with its gold leaf and its flesh tones, of Christ's Body, in prayer and on retreat, in silence, when a nun in the Community of the Holy Family at Holmhurst St Mary, thinking I would never be able see its original in Florence. And this copy I painted is now beside me and my computer above Florence as I write on Julian. Look at the hands there, those of the Mother, those of the Child, those of the Crucified Christ, these last reaching beyond the frame to us, who made our hands in the image of his own, and whose name, 'Son of Adam' ('Adam' in Hebrew meaning ' red'), we so deeply inscribe there. Chichester Cathedral in Sussex has the five red wounds of Christ within its edifice, recalling those of Brigittine nuns upon their crowns of white on black . . . . .

Simone Martini, Museo Horne, Florence.
Editrice Giusti de Becocci S.R.L., Florence, Italy.

Godfriends invite you to share in this Utopia for all, with work, study, prayer, your presence 'oned' with that of God. For this blue /red/print now being shaped by us we are compiling the lives of Father Founders and Mother Foundresses and their Rules, their blue /red /prints for us. We have lost Holmhurst St Mary and its fine library. But we have gained Mother Agnes' beloved Florence . This shall be as a mother house to an ecumenical global hermitage. Indeed, with God all things are possible.

Alinari photograph purchased by Mother Agnes Mason in Florence in the nineteenth century 

IV. And then with the new technology, with Zoom, during Covid19, we inaugurated the Academia Bessarion, with monthly international discussions, for which see https://www.florin.ms/Bessarione.html. Much of this work based on the new findings in Neuroscience, started with the Julian Jaynes, Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, continued with Iain McGilchrist's The Master and his Emissary.  This built on the twenty-two years of work with highly intelligent and skilled but still illiterate Roma families from Romania, with whom we instigated projects of education with work, emphasizing the need for two cultures, not one replacing the other. Instead of modern education's emphasis on the left hemisphere, balancing the two, with work, study, prayer, the body, mind and soul.


Blessed Olive Branch, Kenyan olive-
wood bowl, William Morris Print

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