Lewes Priory plays host to VIP of the past


Passers-by did a double take last week when monks in robes could be seen once again in the Priory ruins at Lewes.

Priory Park welcomed a very special visitor when Brother William, in charge of the gardens at Westminster Abbey, came to visit Prior Thomas Nelond.

Brother William was accompanied by his dog Jasper and his great friend, the cook, Brother Barnabas. Prior Thomas was accompanied by two young novice monks – the oblates.

The visit involved a bit of clever time travel. Brother William worked in the gardens at Westminster Abbey in the 1380s whilst Thomas Nelond was Prior in Lewes from 1414.

The visit was a great success for all involved, not least Jan Pancheri (creator of Brother William and his friends) and Helen Chiasson and Kate Hickmott, education officers for Lewes Priory Trust – they use Thomas Nelond in their work with schools – who accompanied the visit.

Jan is head gardener at Westminster Abbey where she has developed a beautiful herb garden. The peaceful Abbey gardens, reputed to be the oldest in England, and the herb garden are open to the public.

She also wrote and illustrated the children’s book “Brother William’s Year” which tells of life in a monastery garden and is aimed at young children. Brother William also has his own blog (brotherwilliamsgarden.blogspot).

Jan was particularly interested in the Priory herb garden. “Brother William would have enjoyed gardening in this beautiful place,” she said.

There is much excitement as Brother William and Prior Thomas are planning to become “quill-palls”. Prior Thomas, together with Kate and Helen, are also arranging to pay a visit to Brother William and Jan at Westminster Abbey.

Meanwhile, the tranquil surroundings of the Priory of St Pancras will host an exciting event on May 11 – a celebration of medieval music.

One of the treasures of the Priory, currently housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, is the Cluniac breviary missal, a plainsong manuscript from the Middle Ages.

Contained within its lavishly illuminated pages is the music for a Mass of St Pancras and two vespers services. There will be a rare opportunity to hear a performance of these at the Lewes venue by Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge.

The Schola and participating singers will process, in robes, to sing vespers in the ruins at 6pm. Weather permitting, of course – if it rains the event will take place in Southover Church.