Dom Daniel Rees

Downside monk and historian


David Melville Benyon Rees, monk, historian and teacher: born Newport, Monmouthshire 28 August 1931; clothed a monk 1955, taking the name Daniel; ordained priest 1961; Prior, Downside Abbey 1985-91, Librarian 1987-2007; Cathedral Prior of Gloucester 1997-2007; died Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Somerset 10 January 2007.

The English Benedictine monastery of St Gregory's, founded at Douai in Flanders in 1606, and transplanted to Downside in 1814, numbered several eminent Welshmen among its early members, notably the martyr John Roberts, of Trawsfynydd; the Hebrew scholar Leander Jones, a Breconshire man; and Augustine Baker of Abergavenny: lawyer, antiquary and spiritual writer. Dom Daniel Rees continued that tradition.

David Melville Benyon Rees (in religion, Dom Daniel) was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, in 1931. He owed his stability of character to his home, and his intellectual formation to Barry County School for Boys, an enlightened and progressive institution shaped by the personality of an earlier headmaster, Edgar Jones, who has been described as the Welsh Thomas Arnold. The novelist Gwyn Thomas taught Spanish there in the late 1940s, and David Rees's contemporaries included Keith Thomas (who was to join him later at Balliol) and the actor Keith Baxter. It was to T.T. (Teifion) Phillips - one of a succession of inspired history teachers - that he acknowledged his greatest debt.

After two years of National Service in the RAF he went up to Balliol as a Domus Exhibitioner in 1951. He found Oxford at first intimidating, but after a difficult year under the tutelage of Christopher Hill he switched to Medieval History as a pupil of Richard Southern. "It is one of the great blessings of my life to have known him," he wrote later, " and I don't think I could have got through Oxford without him."

Brought up in the Church in Wales, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church when in the RAF. During his time at Oxford he felt increasingly drawn to the religious, and specifically to the Benedictine, life. After a year of teacher training he entered the community at Downside in September 1955. Over the next 50 years he was to give his adopted family unstinting service.

From 1959 he spent five years in Rome at the international Benedictine college of Sant' Anselmo on the Aventine, graduating as a Reader in Theology in 1962, and taking a further degree at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in 1964. His knowledge of the city of Rome and its churches was encyclopaedic.

His return to Downside in 1964 coincided with the beginning of a time of ferment, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, but his firmness of purpose and a certain inner steel enabled him to keep his head while others about him were in the process of losing theirs. He was put in charge of the junior school, and, besides teaching History in the sixth form, lectured in Hebrew at the newly established Downside Centre for Religious Studies affiliated to Bristol University. Over a period of 40 years he served his community as novice-master, school housemaster, Librarian, Prior and Sub-Prior.

For 30 years he was the Master of Studies of the English Benedictine Congregation, and for eight years he chaired the commission set up by the congregation to review the place of the monastic life in contemporary society. Its report, Consider Your Call: a theology of monastic life, was published in 1978. He also edited and contributed to a volume of essays marking the 1,400th anniversary of the mission of St Augustine of Canterbury: Monks of England: the Benedictines of England from Augustine to the present day (1997 - a title, it was remarked, incongruously reminiscent of the anthem in Animal Farm).

His gifts as a writer are shown to best advantage in the many learned and stylish reviews he contributed to the Downside Review - a journal of theology and church history that he edited for some 30 years. In 1983 it emerged into a brief glare of minor publicity following the publication of an article by Colin Richmond entitled "A Blatter of Rain and the Origins of Penkhull". The writer had an absorbing tale to tell: how, in the steps of Edmund Bishop, he had followed the trail of the reliquary of St Penket (an obscure Anglo-Saxon virgin) from the cathedral of Fribourg in Switzerland to the Potteries and, eventually, to the garden of Jorge Luis Borges' grandmother's home at 21 The Villas, Hanley. The erudition and ingenuity of the hoax (for such it was) were a worthy tribute to Borges.

Rees's most tangible literary monument is the monastic library at Downside. He was appointed de facto librarian from 1967, the year after the opening of its purpose-built new premises designed by Francis Pollen. Its unique collection of books and pamphlets on monastic history had been largely formed earlier in the 20th century by Dom Raymund Webster, an Old Harrovian convert whose patrimony contributed to its funding. It was this collection which provided the source material for the first volume of Dom David Knowles's work The Monastic Order in England (1940). More specialised, but as valuable, is the collection of liturgical books bequeathed to the community by Edmund Bishop.

During Rees's tenure (he became formally Librarian in 1987, and remained so until his death), judicious acquisitions and generous bequests greatly increased this nucleus, and he oversaw the incorporation of the hitherto homeless library of Catholic recusant books of the 15th and 16th centuries amassed by the bibliographer Joseph Gillow. This was further augmented by a substantial gift from David Rogers, one of the leading authorities on recusant literature and an assistant Keeper at the Bodleian.

The library, which reflects its librarian's wide-ranging interests (which included Judaism, the Eastern Churches and Irish church history), was made more accessible to visitors, and their enquiries, however recondite, rarely failed to produce a ready answer.

As a biblical scholar and historian of the Church Rees was uniquely qualified to write the biography of his first religious superior, Christopher Butler, Abbot of Downside and later Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, who played an influential part in the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council. His multifarious commitments, however, as well as a certain cautiousness prevented him from carrying through the project. A glimpse of what might have been is to be found in the brief but insightful biographical essay he contributed to the proceedings of a Butler Symposium published in the Downside Review of January 2003.

Dom Daniel wore his learning lightly, and put the duties of pastoral care before scholarship. His warmth of personality, irrepressible humour and gift of empathy (backed by a phenomenal memory for names) won him affection and respect. When he warmed to his theme or recounted a favourite anecdote, his customary imperturbability would give way to a flight of fancy, delivered with relish - to the delight of his hearers - in the accent of his native Wales. He had a keen appreciation of the absurd aspects of ecclesiastical life, and was quick to detect signs of folie de grandeur.

After his retirement from school teaching he was appointed chaplain to the Gregorian Society, the alumni association of Downside School. He turned what might have been a sinecure into an active pastoral ministry, keeping in touch with families by means of a voluminous handwritten correspondence, visiting the sick and giving wise counsel.

He put his biblical scholarship to wider service when in 1990 he was appointed lecturer and examiner for the Divinity course at Maryvale Institute, a Catholic adult education college affiliated to the Open University. He wrote coursebooks on the Pauline Epistles and Acts, and was much appreciated as a tutor.

His service to the English Benedictine Congregation was recognised by his appointment in 1997 as Cathedral Prior of Gloucester - an honorary title recalling a time when Benedictine monks formed the chapters of nine English cathedrals. The invitation he received from the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester to preach there gave him much pleasure.

Martin Murphy

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes