Holy Cross Abbey was formally founded at Stapehill in Dorset on the Feast of all Saints of the Order on 13 November 1802. The founding group of women was led by Madame Augustin de Chabannes, a professed sister of the Parisian Abbey of Saint Antoine. She had been imprisoned in the Bastille, narrowly escaping the guillotine when the Bastille was stormed, and fleeing to Switzerland and a brief respite at La Val Sainte, before joining the monastic odyssey, which took the refugees across Europe in search of asylum.
Augustin de Chabannes understood the way of the Cross, teaching her daughters “not to forget that true devotion to the Cross consists in bearing generously the crosses God sends us”. She entrusted Holy Cross Abbey to Our Lady of Sorrows and indeed sorrows came in plenty. In the 1820s so many young sisters died that an enquiry was set up and Pope Leo XII decreed that the austerity of the Rules of Abbot de Rance should be mitigated and that the Community should come under the jurisdiction of the local Bishop. And so Madame de Chabannes and the sisters at Stapehill were cut off from the Order, and were left in isolation for almost 100 years until, in 1915, they were brought back under the jurisdiction of the Order. Madame de Chabannes knew the way of the Cross, suffering interminable isolation with no support from what was at the time a very fragmented Order. Nevertheless, in 1932 the Stapehill Community founded St Mary’s Abbey, Glencairn in Ireland, their Abbess becoming the first Abbess at Glencairn. And from that stock has grown five generations: Stapehill/Whitland, Glencairn, Wrentham, Mississippi, and Tautra in Norway.
In January 1991, under the leadership of Mother Catherine Priest, the Community moved to its present home at Whitland in Wales, just across the valley from the old Whitland Abbey founded by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in 1151. This came after a period of uncertainty as to the Community’s future, but supported by the Order, the move was made. Mother Catherine died in March 2002 and, later that year, the Community celebrated its bicentenary of foundation.
Augustin (Marie Rosalie) de Vergèzes de CHABANNES, 03/1801 – 13/06/1844
Mary Joseph TROY, Prioress 06/07/1844 – 29/07/1847
Alysia O’BRIEN, Prioress 29/07/1847 – ?/ ?/1853
Josephine CAMPION, Prioress ?/ ?/1853 – 19/09/1871
Cecilia KEATS, Prioress ?/10/1871 – 28/05/1882
Margaret DILLON, Prioress 16/07/1882 – 16/07/1885
Agnes ROLLS, Prioress 16/07/1885 – 16/07/1888
Margaet DILLON (2), Prioress 16/07/1888 – 16/07/1891
Alberic LLOYD-ANSTRUTTER, Prioress 27/08/1891 – 27/08/1894
Agnes ROLLS (2), Prioress 27/08/1894 – 03/10/1900
Malachy RYAN, Prioress 30/10/1900 – 05/11/1903
Scholastica SHEAN, Prioress 05/11/1903 – 11/09/1913
Maura PERRY, Prioress 11/09/1913 – 1927; Abbess 1927 – 12/01/1935. Founded Glencairn; elected first Abbess of Glencairn, 01/1935
Paula TURNER, Abbess 12/01/1935 – 14/01/1941
Bernard PAYNE, Abbess 14/01/1941 – 20/09/1956
Laurence PICKTHORN, Abbess 12/10/1956 – 12/10/1974
Bede DEALL, Abbess 12/10/1974 – 13/10/1980
Catherine PRIEST, Abbess 13/10/1980 – 23/06/1987
Columba GUARE, Sup. ad nutum 15/09/1987 – 11/10/1989
Catherine PRIEST (2), Sup. ad nutum 11/10/1989 – 1995; Abbess 15/09/.1995 – 15/09/2001
Jacqueline MOOR, Abbess 15/09/2001 – 19/02/2005
Edith WILCOCKSON, Sup. ad nutum 19/02/2005 – 14/02/2006
Work and Sources of Income
An altar bread industry and market garden. The Community also collaborates with the Forestry Commission in their Better Woodland Wales scheme, extending existing woodland and meadowland, to ensure a sustainable fuel for the newly-installed Bio Mass heating system and to enhance the natural beauty of our valley for generations to come.