Clare College Cambridge

College Retreat




In early July, 13 members of the College community spent five days on retreat at the beautiful Monastery of San Masseo, on the plain outside Assisi. Undergraduate and postgraduate students and two fellows stayed in the monastery, working, eating and praying with the five monks of the Bose community who live and work there. In the mornings, they worked in the vineyards and gardens, whilst the afternoons were spent exploring in and around Assisi and the Umbrian countryside, looking at the frescoes of Giotto and Cimabue, walking in the Bosco di San Francesco, visiting other local sites, reading and eating gelato!

The brothers of San Masseo live a hospitable and generous life of prayer and work, and welcomed the group exceptionally warmly, including for a farewell drinks party (with their own homemade liquori)on the last night of the trip. Their liturgical life is entirely sung in Italian, but they invited us to read in English at Midday Prayer, and each evening the Clare group said Compline together in English in the beautiful 11th Century crypt chapel at which our Dean gave a short talk. It was an unforgettable experience of peace, sunshine, dramatic thunderstorms, reflection and recreation. A similar visit will be organized for summer 2017!

Second year theologian Hannah Fytche, and third year PhD student Olivier Grouille, each reflect on the trip:

Hannah writes:

When it came to Assisi I didn’t know what to expect. Before going, I spent an evening wondering what I'd make of Assisi, this as-yet-unknown place. For me, it become a place of hope and expectation, the hope and expectation of meeting God.

I realised that meeting God is not something idyllic and smooth and pristine; rather, what God asks for is earthy, gritty faithfulness.

Faithfulness that gets its hands dirty while its heart stays soft and open, easily breakable; faithfulness that digs deep roots in the unexpected and strange grace of God. Faithfulness that mourns with those who mourn and rejoices with those who rejoice, all the while relying on the overcoming strength of God.

So, on the eve of departure, Assisi become for me not a magical place where everything would glimmer with the comfortable ease of hot, European weather and ample time to relax. Rather it became to me another context in which to build up my heart in the earthy, everyday faithfulness that I believe God has called me to.

Having now returned from Assisi my heart is full. Full of grace upon grace, the grace of repose as well as the grace of expectations being both met and far exceeded.

God has drawn close to me, strengthening my faith as I’ve experienced the fullness of life in San Masseo – the times of prayer, eating delicious Italian food, sharing fellowship and building community, picking elderberries and taming vines.

Olivier writes: 

I signed up for the spiritual retreat to a monastery in Assisi despite not being a practising Christian or a particularly spiritual person. Knowing from personal experience that Jamie is absolutely committed to creating an environment in which people of any faith or none can spend time together and enjoy one another’s company, I was not worried about potentially being the only non-Christian in the group.  That said, I do maintain a lively interest in religion and its relationship to society and politics, as well as its history and art, as well as a long-standing love affair with most things Italian, which certainly helps, but is not a pre-requisite.

Having read up a little (5mins on Wikipedia) on the monastic community we were to be visiting, I was excited at the prospect of staying in an open-minded and friendly community deep in the Italian countryside, surrounded by beautiful architecture and incredible religious buildings literally bursting at the seams with fabulous frescoes. Not to mention the opportunity to consume some delicious cappuccini, gelati, pasta and pizza….

In none of my aspirations was I disappointed, and I enjoyed an incredibly relaxing, thought-provoking and enjoyable week. I made new friends, and deepened the bonds of existing friendships.  From the monks I learned a whole new perspective on the work-life-think balance, and found them relaxed, charming and surprisingly good fun, with an excellent and mischievous sense of humour.  I was amazed how they managed to combine a deep religious devotion with a relaxed engagement and enthusiasm for the secular world, and in particular how sincerely and enthusiastically they welcome non-religious people into their home and lives.  At no point was I ever uncomfortable in their presence and the Christian aspect of their existence was at once open to all yet self-contained, so that visitors could be involved as little or as much as they wished in the periods of worship.  I thoroughly enjoyed working in the monastery’s gardens and tending the vines was a particular highlight.

Whether you are seeking to explore your faith, see some beautiful stuff, make new college friends, experience a different way of life, or just take a summer break from the hectic Cambridge environment to read, catch up on sleep and take stock of life and luxuriate in the best aspects of Italian culture, I cannot recommend this trip strongly enough to every member of college.





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