“There has never been a renewal of the Church in Western Europe
without a renewal of prayer and the life of religious communities.”
—Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, 29/7/13
The call of the first monks and nuns dates from about the year 250 AD, and their ‘flight’ to the desert where they led a life of unceasing prayer and heroic sanctity. They heard the call of Christ to renounce all, and followed it literally.
This monastic life or religious lif began with these solitaries of the desert. They then spread to communities and were further developed in the return to the centres of civilisation, the great cities of the Roman Empire. Here they ministered to the needs of the poor, sick and needy, and contributed to the building up of social and cultural life through the spread of education in schools
and other places of learning.
Since that time such witnesses, following in the footsteps of the early Christian martyrs, have fortified the Church. Religious life has been a stronghold for defending the Church’s faith and inspiring mission through prayer and action.
In the upheaval of the 16th Century all convents and monasteries in Britain were closed or destroyed. It was not until the early part of the 19th century that religious life was fully revived in the Church of England. Through the Oxford Movement new monastic communities were formed and many Anglo-Catholic devotional and priestly societies were founded.
The women and men at the heart of the monastic revival included many devoted priests including Dr Pusey and John Mason Neale. They were convinced that the Church of England could not seriously claim to be part of the one catholic and apostolic church if it lacked monastic/religious life. Interestingly this revival happened in exactly the reverse order to the original monastic movement. The first communities to be founded were active Sisterhoods working in the slums, poverty and disease of our cities as later depicted in 'Call the Midwife'.
This was followed by groups of mission priests and lay brothers such as the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield. With the turn of the nineteenth century enclosed contemplative communities of women emerged such as the Sisters of the Love of God at Fairacres, Oxford. Then came the founding of Benedictine Communities and enclosed contemplative orders for men. Also throughout this period a small number of Religious once again began living the solitary life of a hermit.