The Order of the Visitation at Foxhunt Green - Sussex nuns
PUBLISHED: 07:33 07 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:07 20 February 2013
The Order of the Visitation at the Monastery at Foxhunt Green, near Waldron recently celebrated its fourth centenary. We meet the nuns of the Order.
Sussex nuns hard at work in their monastery Garden. Its been a good harvest, says Sister Josephine Margaret, 78, who runs the garden at the Monastery of the Visitation at Waldron, East Sussex. Not as good as last year. Last year was very good. But its been good.
Whats more, she says, not once did she have to pray to St Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners, even though the two-acre garden within the walls of the Monastery continued to be under constant attack from field mice and rabbits.
Sister Josephine traces her interest in gardening back to her grandfather, a retired headmaster. Her father, she says, was only interested in cutting the lawn. Then only if he had to. She herself, however, is a professional gardener. She has a degree in biology from Bedford College, London University. She also worked at the Royal Horticultural Societys Wisley Gardens in Surrey as assistant to the Trials Recorder before becoming a nun almost 50-years-ago.
Today, thanks largely to Sister Josephine, the Monastery, is almost self-sufficient in vegetables and soft fruit. They also grow most of the flowers they use to decorate their Chapel. They even chop up all their own wood used to heat the Monastery during the winter.
Says Sister Josephine, The soil here is very good. There is a good thick humus on top. But underneath it is thick, white clay.
Easiest to grow are tomatoes, cabbages and celeriac.
We have so many tomatoes, she says. They went on for weeks and weeks and weeks. We grow Gardeners Delight. Theyre bite size. Nice and chewey. We also grow Moneymaker.
Cabbages are easy. So are carrots especially since we got rid of the carrot fly. Celeriac is also good. The Sisters like that. Especially when its done very well. My own favourites are French beans and leeks.
As for soft fruits, there is more than enough to go round.
Rhubarb. We have plenty of rhubarb, says Sister Josephine. Raspberries. They were not too bad this year. Strawberries. We had lots of them. Figs. The figs were so big this year and so luscious. I dont think Ive ever eaten such luscious figs before. Blackcurrants. They were also very good.
Peas and cauliflowers, however, are a problem.
I have to go to the local Tesco and Asda to get them, admits Sister Mary Joseph, who is in charge of the catering at the Monastery.
Sister Josephine, however, does not spend all day and every day in her Monastery garden.
Most days I might manage, maybe, two or three hours in the morning, she says. In the afternoons, I might manage another hour. Then there is everything else to do. We go to Chapel five times a day. Three, perhaps, four times a week, I cook dinner. Some days, I cook breakfast as well. Its a busy life. There is never enough time.
But when its a really busy time for the garden, the other nuns come out and give me a hand. Sometimes well have what we call Special Gardening Days when everybody comes. We then usually finish with a barbecue and salad.
The salad supplied, of course, by the Monastery garden.
The Order of the Visitation is one of the largest groups of contemplative nuns in the Roman Catholic Church with more than 3,000 nuns in 150 Monasteries in 30 countries throughout the world.
At Waldron, the Victorian red brick monastery, which is home to 13 nuns as well as an ever-growing number of guests and visitors, was originally built as a mansion for a wealthy Victorian businessman.
The nuns are a silent order. They have brief periods after lunch and supper when they are allowed to talk to each other.
The Order has just celebrated its 400th anniversary.
To mark the occasion the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, the Rt. Rev. Kieran Conroy, planted a tree in the grounds of the Monastery.
Like Sister Josephine Margaret, most of the nuns lived quite different lives before taking their vows.
Some were teachers, nurses and midwives. One nun was a doctor. Another nun worked in a supermarket. The Reverend Mother, Sister Jane Margaret, used to teach in a comprehensive school in London.
The nuns ages range from the mid-30s to the mid-90s. One of them has been a nun for 40 years. Their combined age is about 800-years-old.
Some of them became nuns in their 20s. Others in their 50s. One of them, who has spent 30 years at the Monastery, became a nun when she retired from her job in a bank in the City of London.
Some of them were married. One of the nuns, Sister Paul Miryam, who met the Pope during his recent visit to this country, has three children. She joined the Order when she was 58-years-old. She has just celebrated 25 years as a nun.
The nuns rise at 5.50 every morning.
Five times a day they pray the Divine Office in Choir. Their singing is accompanied by a zither or organ played by the Reverend Mother, a Liverpudlian, who was she admits, before entering the Monastery, a Beatles fan!
The nuns only leave the Monastery on special occasions. To visit sick relatives. To attend meetings of other groups of nuns. Or just to go to the doctors or dentist.
Since becoming nuns they have developed a wide range of specialist skills to raise money to support not only themselves but to maintain the Monastery and its grounds.
Some are craft workers. One is a French translator. Others specialise in mounting and displaying Russian icons. The nuns were responsible for restoring and conserving many of the manuscripts in the library at Lambeth Palace.
The Monastery welcomes visitors
The Order of the Visitation is the only closed Order in the world to invite women visitors to live with them for a day, a week or even longer.
The Monasterys Reverend Mother Sister Jane Margaret says: It is our mission and our joy to welcome women into the Monastery, to join us in the rhythm of the community and to enjoy the peace, stillness and beauty of our grounds.
They even have a website: