I was a curate (parochial vicar) in the Church of England in the late 80s when an older priest introduced me to the Isle of Wight. The island is a beautiful, little known corner of England that is delightfully behind the times. Opposite the port of Portsmouth, just off the Southern coast of the English mainland, the island is separated by a five mile wide body of water called the Solent.
The Isle of Wight is a diamond shaped island about seven miles by fourteen. I went with my friend to help conduct a parish mission, and while there he took me to visit Quarr Abbey. Quarr is a Benedictine Abbey of the Solesmes congregation in France. During the third republic the French repressed the religious orders and around 1902 the monks from the Abbey of Solesmes fled to England and found refuge on the Isle of Wight. Eventually they bought land on the North coast of the Island next to the ruins of a Cistercian monastery. Not knowing if they would ever be able to return to France, they started monastic life in a large house on the property and began to build their monastery.
One of their number, Dom Paul Bellot, was an architect and he designed the new monastery and it’s amazing church. The unusual architecture is a combination of Gothic, Moorish and Byzantine–being built in the same time period as the Basilica of St Therese in Lisieux and Sacre Coeur in Paris–both of which also weave in Byzantine and Moorish influences. Built in Flemish brick, the building is both austere and monastic yet warm and gentle.