The fascinating story behind the Abbey’s statue of Our Lady of Buckfast
On Sunday 31st July, South Devon’s Buckfast Abbey marked the centenary since its restored medieval artefact, the statue of Our Lady of Buckfast, was placed by the monks in the new Lady Chapel of the Abbey Church.
The historic statue, part of which dates back to the 14th century, is treasured by the Abbey as it is the only artefact of significant size to survive the destruction of Buckfast Abbey during the Reformation period in the 16th century.
Many iconographic statues, mosaics and frescoes of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Christ child appeared across Europe in medieval times, with a fresco in the Rome catacombs dating back as far as the second century. The history of the Our Lady of Buckfast’s statue is a remarkable tale of discovery, restoration and finally installation in the Abbey Church at Buckfast.
Buckfast Abbey is the only English Benedictine monastery to be re-founded upon its original pre-reformation site. Having fallen into ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII in 1538, the Abbey Church was rebuilt stone by stone upon its medieval foundations by a team of returning French Benedictine monks in 1882. It was during this process that a considerable fragment of the original statue of Our Lady was discovered in a nearby wall.
With its colouring and gilding intact, it’s a marvel that specialists were able to recreate the 14th century statue incorporating the original fragment, using evidence from the image on the seal of the medieval Buckfast Abbey held in the British Museum.
Following its restoration in the late 1880s, the statue was housed in the Chapter House’s temporary church before being moved to the Abbey Church in August 1922 to mark the official inauguration of the building.
On 2nd August 1922, the Translation of the Statue of Our Lady of Buckfast took place, where the statue was carried in a large procession from the temporary church to the Lady Chapel, as part of the inauguration ceremony for the new Abbey Church.
100 years on, Buckfast Abbey paid fitting tribute to the critical moment in its history with a well-attended Votive Mass of Our Blessed Lady led by Fr Abbot David Charlesworth, followed by a lunch reception in the Abbey’s St.Cuthbert’s conference centre.
Commenting on the celebrations, Fr Abbot said: “It was a pleasure to welcome so many people to our Mass on Sunday and celebrate another incredibly special milestone for the Abbey. With such a fascinating history to be shared, we look forward to welcoming more visitors to the Lady Chapel this year to enjoy and learn more about our treasured piece of history – the statue of Our Lady of Buckfast.”
Those who attended the Mass were given a complimentary copy of the specially compiled booklet about the fascinating story of the statue, which has been published by Buckfast Abbey to commemorate the centenary of her installation. The booklet features original photographs of the translation ceremony and is available to purchase now from the Buckfast Abbey bookshop for 50p. Small replicas of our Lady of Buckfast statue are also available to purchase in the Buckfast Abbey Gift Shop or online.
Buckfast Abbey is conveniently located midway between Exeter and Plymouth, just off the A38. Home to a community of Benedictine monks, the Abbey offers a unique, tranquil ambience, and is open seven days a week to the public. For more information on Buckfast Abbey visit https://www.buckfast.org.uk.