New Carmelite monastery in York

Few people know much about the life of Carmelite nuns because their vocation is one of enclosure; they do not go out of their monastery except in cases of necessity, remaining on the one site in order to dedicate themselves completely to a life of prayer, serving God and one another.

It’s therefore unusual to see a dozen nuns in their long brown habits filling removal vans with boxes and religious paraphernalia, yet this is the sight that would greet anyone visiting the monastery of Thicket Priory eight miles southeast of York in the village of Thorganby. On Thursday, 21 May the sisters are moving from their old house (a listed Victorian stately home) into a purpose-built monastery that will allow the sisters to continue their way of life well into the twenty-first century.

What makes the move even more remarkable is that it coincides, to the day, with the move into the Yorkshire area of another community of enclosed religious women; the Benedictine nuns who have lived at Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire since 1838 have likewise constructed a purpose-built monastery to better suit their needs at Wass on the North York Moors. Unlike the Stanbrook nuns, the Carmelite sisters have already sold their old property as a family home. The other difference is that they are moving only a few hundred metres onto retained land where the first Thicket Priory – a monastery of Cistercian nuns – was established in the Middle Ages.

When the Cistercian monastery was dissolved at the Reformation and passed into private hands, a walled garden was built in which the Carmelites (who moved to Thicket in the 1950s) have constructed their new home. Monastic living places great emphasis on being in touch with the land, and environmental concerns have been at the very forefront of the construction project undertaken by York architects McNeil Beechey O’Neill.

Reflecting the concerns of the Roman Catholic Church to uphold the integrity of God’s created world, the monastery design incorporates many ‘green’ features. The chapel and cells will be heated by geothermic pipes sunk deep into the ground below the foundations. This renewable energy will be supplemented by solar panels, and heat will be retained by the grass roofs covering the building.

In a ceremony held on 18th May, the contractors handed the building over to the sisters. The prioress of the community, Very Revd. Mother Mary of Carmel, O.C.D., stated: “We thank God, and our many supporters, that this long-awaited project has come to completion. Our new home has been beautifully constructed with the preservation of the natural environment in mind. Our life is a somewhat hidden one, and this building will be inconspicuous compared to our former home, but we invite anyone wishing to discover more about God and our relationship with him to visit us; just let us finish unpacking first!”

Other nuns likewise expressed their delight in their new home; the eldest (in her 90s), Sister Mary of Christ, is pleased that she won’t have to climb any stairs, whilst the youngest (in her 30s), Sister Thérèse, is happy that the new building has a specially constructed library and meditation rooms.

More information about the sisters at Thicket and the Carmelite way of life can be found online at:

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