Saturday, 25 August 2007

Sancti Angeli Skete.

Our Lady of Victories as written for me by Sister Petra Clare.

Sister at the door of the skete.

The skete garden in the summer.

I have meant, for some time, to post an entry about the Sancti Angeli Skete, in the Highlands of Scotland. A skete is a very particular form of monastic life, skirting as it does somewhere between a hermitage and a more traditional enclosed community. There are Anglican Franciscans in New Zealand living a similar life, but Sancti Angeli is the only skete in this country.

It was started by Sister Petra Clare, who was part of the community at St Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde (in the Isle of Wight) and she still is a part of the community in a canonical way even though the Benedictine Abbey at Pluscarden acts as her spiritual leader. The Abbey was, in my opinion, very unfortunate to lose an especially gifted Prior recently, to one of their daughter houses soon after Brother Marius (whom I had the pleasure of meeting some time ago) was presumed dead, after having been missing for a long time.

Sister Petra Clare has founded the Sancti Angeli Skete in Maryvale, Cannich, not too far from Inverness, but very much in the desert. The house is attached to the church of Our Lady and St Bean (pronounced Ban) which is itself now served from the Presbytery in Inverness. At one point, when I was a regular visitor to these parts, it was served from the old gatehouse chapel of the abandoned Fort Augustus Abbey (now country club style apartments) by Fr Paul Bonicci, who was one of the last members of the Benedictine community there who also served the beautiful chapel at Stratherrick, near Whitebridge on the East side of Loch Ness. It is, though, as a skete, a quite separate foundation, although Sister does act as Sacristan for the Church.

It is a skete (which is basically a collection of religious, usually of one sex, who live monastic lives, in a community but with a degree of separation from each other, not un similar to a Charterhouse) for women, the hope being to attract enough vocations to start a school (and production) of church ornaments of very high quality. Sister Petra Clare has started the ball rolling because she is probably the greatest iconographer in this country, and ranks on the worldwide sphere. She runs summer courses at the skete (again, for women, although there is accommadation for men in a separate building) as well as teaching classes all over the country. You can find information on her website ( ) about all sorts of courses as well as more information on the particular charism of the skete.

I encountered Sister some years ago through Fr Paul and, unaware of her fame or the quality of her work, asked her to write an icon of Our Lady of Victories for me. Much discussion ensued and, one cold (very cold) frosty, snowy day I made my way from Whitebridge, where I was staying, to her skete. I will never forget Sster opening the door and feeling the warmth that emanated from that place, both spiritual and physical. She showed me the finished Icon, which, as you can see, is beautiful and fed me on home made bread and a very good vegetable stew. It was a very special day. The icon now stands in my hallway, welcoming me and every other visitor to the house. On a bright day, the light from the fanlight illuminates Her beautifully and if you open the front door and walk down the street, if you turn back, you are aware of the light which emanates from her body. It truly is the most beautfiul thing in the house. She glimmers when the fire is on in the Winter and burns when the candles beneath Her are lit at dusk.

Icons are things which are 'new' to many Anglo Catholics, but they have so much more life, faith and meaning to them than statues, but like statues, mass produced ones have no soul. I cannot suggest a better place to learn more about them than Sisters website, or a better person to write one if, like me, you believe in buying British!