Thursday, December 06, 2018

1959 Documentary on the Carmelite Nuns

Here is a really marvelous documentary filmed inside a Carmelite women’s house in Presteigne, Wales, in 1959, and originally broadcast on a program on BBC Wales called Out of This World. The Mother Superior and one of the novices have some very wise words to offer about the importance of the contemplative vocation for the Church and the world as a whole. There is a common caricature, sadly believed even by some Catholics, that the austerity of the strict contemplative orders turned them into sour and unpleasant people, but the women interviewed here seem to be very the models of both joy and wisdom.

When this was filmed, the Carmel itself was fairly new, and the house had not yet been completed; there are several shots of the nuns doing the construction work themselves, with their full habits on, no less! The sisters were sleeping in temporary huts on the convent lawn, with only a brick taken from the oven to keep them warm in the winter, but when the presenter says to the Superior “You’ll be quite happy to leave them, I suppose?”, she answers, “Oh no!” There is no footage of either Mass or Office, but there is a bit of the rite of the clothing of a new member of the community, in which she enters the church dressed as a bride. At the end, the sisters since the Salve Regina, albeit recto tono, in keeping with the extreme austerity of the Discalced Carmelites. This Carmel was closed in 1988, but the chapel is still used. (Hat tip to Mr Jeffrey Morse.)

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