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Terence Smith recalls decades of connections with Holy Cross Abbey

By mbarber  |  Posted: January 26, 2014

Stapehill Avvey from the two road junctions

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Following out article which detailed plans for Stapehill Abbey we invited readers to send in their memories of the Abbey - which was called Holy Cross in the days when it was the home of Cistercian Trappist nuns.

Terence Smith who was born at the Old Thatch - just across the road from the Abbey - in 1925, said he was a poorly baby and his father rushed him over to the priest to be baptised.

He said: “From my first breaths I developed years of association and love of this magnificent place. My father Thomas Smith came to Stapehill at the outbreak of the First World War as a soldier in the Manchester regiment. He met my mother, who lived at the Old Thatch and they married at the Abbey church in 1916.

During their married life they had three boys and one girl and we were all baptised at the Abbey church and all three boys were groomed to become altar boys. We had to learn Latin and had Catechism lessons with Mother Lawrence. We spent wonderful school holidays working in the farm at the Abbey. At that time we lived behind the Abbey in one of the cottages and walked over for mass, benediction and holy days. One of my most important jobs was weeding and caring for the graves.”

After serving in Malaysia during the Second World War, Terence returned to Stapehill.

He added: “Once again my association with the Abbey became so important to me. I was the oldest altar boy on record.

“I married there as did my brother Jack and my sister Mary. All of our children were baptised in the Abbey and our entire family attended church services weekly. It was such a privilege to be included in all the church ceremonies over so many years. As a boy I recall vividly assisting during the Easter vigil, one priest and 40 nuns and one very sleepy Altar boy.

When the Abbey had to be sold and the nuns relocated I was so upset, as were the nuns. It changed my life forever and I miss them each and every day. It took me many years after it closed to go up there. Eventually I did and I have no shame in saying I broke down at kneeling on the altar that had been interwoven in my life for over half a century.

So many people certainly missed the presence of the nuns. One group of people who were affected were the tramps who frequented the Abbey for food and hot drinks. I recall one in particular who after enjoying a tray of fresh bread and jam, quaffed down copious mugs of hot tea and home made cake rang the bell and thanked Sister for his meal. He then asked if he could have something to read. ‘Of course you may my son’ said Sister Mary. As she disappeared along the corridor, he called out: ‘I don't want one of them religious books’.

I just hope and indeed pray, that any development will be done with the utmost thought to the sanctity of this magnificent place which holds so many memories to me and so many others. When I visit my parents graves in the Abbey cemetery, I drive up to the Abbey and sit looking in awe of this treasured place. To think that once there was a Lady Abbess and over 200 nuns living and praying there.”

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