A community of nuns in rural Wales have just held a public auction of many of their monastery’s belongings as they await an imminent move which will see them exchange a rural lifestyle for city living. The Poor Clare Colettine Community has been in Hawarden for ninety years but in the face of mounting bills to restore and maintain their property they have discerned that the time is right to move to a Poor Clare community attached to a parish in Nottingham. The sale of their belongings, in June, was billed as a “unique, unrepeatable, amateur auction of ancient furniture, doubtful works of art, nunny junk, cloistered clutter, flotsam, jetsam, slightly off-white elephants and really useful odds and ends."
Thirteen sisters will be setting off from Wales over the summer to join four sisters in Nottingham. An extraordinary aspect of the move is that they are also planning to disinter the 18 sisters in their cemetery for reburial in Nottingham. Speaking from the convent in Hawarden, Mother Damian was adamant that had to happen: “As a community we asked, ‘will we take the cemetery with us?’ Of course we will, we wouldn’t dream of leaving them here was the reply!” They have applied to the Home Office to get a license and are awaiting the disinterment, which will involve the convent’s cemetery being cordoned off and the remains being moved by hearse. Mother Damian explains: “Our cemetery is very special; they were the founding Sisters of this house. The cemetery is very much part of our lives. Many young sisters, when they first come here, walk into the gardens and then to the cemetery and spend a long time there in prayer.”
There is sadness at their departure from Hawarden and Mother Damian acknowledges that many local people have wondered why it has to happen. “We’ve had a wonderful life in Hawarden but we’ve come to realise that we can’t cope with the size of the property. The grounds are big but the infirmary is too small. Our boiler needs to be replaced and there is other major structural work to be tackled. The house is also full of stairs; we can see it will be harder for us here in five years, so we are looking to the future.”
They initially contacted the local bishop to see if he could assist in helping them find a new property. But then, after a visit to the community in Nottingham, the idea of moving suddenly took root. “We’d had contact with the Poor Clares in Nottingham for many years but it never entered my head that we would ever go there!” Mother Damian said. After praying about it, she offered the idea to her community in a vote and everyone said yes. She now has a “sense of peace” about the relocation and describes the move as like two hands joining: “We’ve never all lived together before. Like any merger, it’s bound to have its teething problems. But both parties are looking forward to the challenge. This is a new adventure, a new pilgrimage. God is setting us out to do something different. Each day we pray that God will bless this venture. But it’s not easy. I’m sure there will be many tears before it’s over!”
Mother Damian has lived in Hawarden since 1982 and believes the fact that the community never intended to go to Nottingham means that the sudden opportunity that has arisen is a gift from God. Alterations are being made to the property in Nottingham and the minute the builder gives the green light, the thirteen Sisters will be off: “God has given us an invitation and we have accepted.”
The deceased sisters will be reburied in the grounds of the Nottingham monastery. “They are a part of our community. They’re our roots; if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have been here in Hawarden all these years.”