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Webpage: Carmelite Nuns
|Founded from Lyons in France at Fulham in 1865, moved to Isleworth while the Carmel was being built at Golders Green, moved to Golders Green in 1908. They are at present resident in Preston Carmel awaiting the completion of a newly build Carmelite Monastery where they will join the Liverpool Community.|
The Carmelite monastery at Golders Green.......
The following article was taken from Hampstead & Highgate Express
Prayers and graces
Tony Padman enters the cloistered world of the Carmelite Sisters, where silence is not only golden but the rule for nuns who have dedicated themselves to a life of isolation from everyone including their relatives.
|Sister Teresa and I sit on either side of the black grille that separates us, rather like a confessional. The grille is secured in the centre of the partitioning wall of two rooms. Visitors are not permitted any further than here and the chapel. There is a daily newspaper but no television or radio. Aside from a visit to the doctor or dentist, Sister Teresa and the 12 nuns of the Carmelite convent in Bridge Lane, Golders Green, rarely, if ever, leave the confines of the grounds. Dont expect to see the nuns shopping at Tesco. The grocer, chemist and milkman all deliver. There is no noise. The nuns only speak to each other when necessary.||
Sister Teresa of the Carmelites: I miss many things. Travelling, the mountains, my family
|Sister Teresa, 71, has been a Carmelite nun since 1952. A warm and unassuming
woman, she dresses in the brown Carmelite habit. She greets her visitors
like old friends whom she has not seen for ages.
Of course its not easy and there are many things I miss. But its a life of devotion to God, she says with a smile. I miss travelling, mountains, beautiful scenery and of course my relatives.
Sister Mary makes altar breads
There has also been a time in my life when I miss not having a family
of my own. But I made this my choice.
This is one of the 22 remaining enclosed Carmelite convents in the UK. There used to be 39.
The enclosure is not meant for security or to keep us in and others out. Its a firm demarcation to provide us with a climate of prayer, explains Sister Teresa. Other convents are known as apostolic which means that the nuns have visible tasks such as teaching, nursing and social work. Their conditions and timetable are more flexible. Also they have a less institutionalised lifestyle. Theyre outside meeting people, theyre more in touch with events and theres a greater participation in the larger community. Our Order is based on a life of prayer.
The Carmelite Order was brought to England from Lyons in France 150 years ago
by a Jewish musician, Hermann Cohen, who converted to Catholicism. He opened
the first Carmelite house in Kensington. The Carmelite nuns have been living
alongside the Jewish community of Golders Green since 1908.
Sister Teresa says: We see how assiduously they attend the synagogue and have a friendly interest in their customs. We feel an affinity in their worship and hope in the future to have closer relations and to understand their way of life.
|The most overwhelming feeling of tranquillity and serenity awaits visitors
inside this Byzantine-style fronted convent. Its white, scrupulously
clean and the atmosphere is like manna from heaven. The silence surrounds
you so peacefully, it feels as if its going through you.
The quadrangle building with a garden in the centre separates into four light and airy cloisters, with monastic-like arches throughout. One leads to a small room, where income is generated through making altar breads for many of the London Catholic churches.
|Sister Mary, 73, looks after the baking. She explains: Its a paste made from water and flour which we sandwich and bake between two 18in hot plates. After a few seconds they are taken to a damping office, otherwise they become too dry and brittle for cutting. The altar breads are weighed in bags of 100 and dispatched in boxes of 1,000. There are two breads, one the size of a 10p for parishioners and one slightly larger for the priest.||
Another source of revenue until recently was the design and printing of greeting
cards. A Heidelberg Press was installed when the convent won a contract to produce
cards and gift tags for the Samuel Jones Butterfly Brand. Sister Teresa says:
We were like a little factory producing more than 25,000 quality cards
every year. Eventually, the work became too pressurised and it took away our
reason for being here.
The printing press sits in an attic high in the eaves of the convent. To reach the attic you use a lift that sits out of place within one of the cloisters. It can only be described as an H.G. Wells time machine that you are more likely to get stuck than transported in. You dont call the Fire Brigade if youre trapped in it, though. Dont worry, says Sister Teresa seriously, if it breaks down theres the emergency rope to pull us up.
|Another of the cloisters points to the cells. The nuns, who
range in age from 35 to 85, sleep in rooms measuring 12ft by 8ft, each with
a small bed, a chair and a locker.
The women, whose nationalities include English, Burmese and Korean, wake daily at 5.25am. In addition to prayers, they do housework, laundry and gardening.
The head of the convent is Sister Magdelen, 74. She is referred to as the Prioress, although in other convents she would be known as the Mother Superior. This is the only hierarchy within the Carmelites.
Between 9.30am and 10.30am every day of the year, the homeless and the needy gather outside the front door as they have done for almost 60 years and are given tea and sandwiches. Sister Teresa says: Theyre real characters, protective of each other. Theyre mostly men whose lives altered through no fault of their own.
A statue of the Virgin and Child in the convents chapel.
The training with the Carmelite Sisters is similar to other convents. A year
of finding out is followed by two years as a novice. After this
they may take their first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience lasting three
years. At the end of this time they are free to go or take their final vows,
which represent a commitment for life.
This is a difficult undertaking today. You need a certain amount of psychological balance to fit into enclosed life, says Sister Teresa. In the past, your hair was cut and this was symbolic of what you were leaving behind and what you were going forward to. It used to be a bridal ceremony in the chapel and afterwards in the enclosure you were given the habit. Nowadays, the habit is given privately within the enclosure.
She admits that once you become a nun, you dont become superhuman. The way someone holds a soup spoon can drive you round the bend. Just as in marriage, you either say, Ive had enough of you, or you get beyond it.
Living with a group of nuns can be as difficult as living in any community, she says. Before I entered, Id lived with people of my own age and shared interests. Then I became a nun and found that the greatest difficulty was living with people I hadnt chosen to live with, or friends I wouldnt have picked by choice.
But the most important thing is that you learn about yourself by living in a certain solitude and with other people. Its still my greatest difficulty but its a source of growth.
Its a wonderful place. A plumber came to work for us recently and he said to me: Oh, its so quiet and calm here, Id love to stay longer. I think he was quite envious really.