Benedictine monks make £116,000 from bible sale

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The Independent Online

A community of Benedictine monks has made £116,000 by auctioning its collection of bibles and first editions of religious texts. The Roman Catholic community at Prinknash Abbey, Gloucestershire, is preparing to move out because of dwindling numbers.

The highest price paid for a single item in the collection was £8,200 for a copy of the King James Bible dated 1611. That particular translation, completed in 1610, was the first to be acceptable to both Protestants and Catholics.

The monks also sold works by Aristotle and the Scottish philosopher John Locke, all beautifully illustrated and bound. A total of 250 early bibles and volumes on theology were put up for sale at a two-day auction at South Cerney, near Cirencester.

The monks are moving in October from their modern abbey, built in 1972, back into the original abbey building, St Peter's Grange, that was their home from 1928, because their numbers have dwindled to just 13. The community is gradually disposing of about half of its 30,000 books, built up over 110 years.Funds from the sales will be used to convert St Peter's Grange to its new use and to develop and build a retreat centre.

The association between the land known as Prinknash Park and the Benedictine monks goes back to 1096, when the family of Walter Giffard, one of the Norman nobles who came over with William the Conqueror, donated the land to Serlo, Abbot of St Peter's, Gloucester.

It was an abbey for more than five centuries, but was confiscated during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and turned into a hunting lodge for a local landowner. A deed of covenant dated 1 August 1928, signed by the Earl of Rothes, turned the land over to a community of Benedictine monks then based on Caldey Island, who had converted 15 years earlier to Roman Catholicism. The first six monks from Caldey Islands moved into Prinknash, to convert it into a monastery, in October. By the end of the Thirties, the community had trebled in size from its original 25, and a decision was made to construct a new building. The foundation was laid in 1939, but work was interrupted by the war and completed in 1972. The old abbey was then converted into a retreat.

Prinknash Abbey's bursar, Fr Martin McLaughlin, said he was a delighted by the outcome of the auction.

"It's much better than we expected," he said. "One or two books didn't reach their reserve price, but many have gone over, so it all balances out.

"We're selling off some of our books and giving away some to other monasteries. We can't take everything with us and there are a lot of costs involving in moving. It's quite sad to see them go, but the kind of people who are buying them are passionate about these types of books."

The holy order

* St Benedict of Nursia founded the Benedictine Order and the monastery of Monte Cassino in about AD529.

* Benedictine monasteries and nunneries are autonomous but they follow the Benedictine Rule.

* Saint Augustine introduced the Benedictine Rule to England in AD597.

* All Benedictines take vows of stability, conversion of manners and obedience.

* The order was at its peak from AD550-1150.

* The Venerable Bede, author of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People was a Benedictine monk in Jarrow.

* 168 Benedictine houses were dissolved by Henry VIII by 1540.

* There are 16 Catholic monasteries,11 nunneries and nine Anglican Benedictine houses in Britain.