Nuns at Stanbrook Abbey revive the ancient craft of paper cutting

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 May 2018

The carefully preserved  English Coat of Arms first created in the Benedictine nuns� original monastery at Cambrai, northern France

The carefully preserved English Coat of Arms first created in the Benedictine nuns� original monastery at Cambrai, northern France

Simon Dewhurst Photography Limited 2017

Nuns revive an ancient art almost forgotten with the aim of creating something new

Sister Marian Sweeting-Hempshall with the framed English Coat of ArmsSister Marian Sweeting-Hempshall with the framed English Coat of Arms

Benedictine nuns at a North Yorkshire monastery are mastering a skill which was in danger of being lost to them forever. They are reviving the ancient craft of paper cutting once practised by monastic communities in the 17th century as a way of earning a living. The nuns began learning the craft after rediscovering 200-year-old paper cut work in the archives at Stanbrook Abbey, Wass near York.

It was a chance meeting that led them to Harrogate artist and skilled paper-cutter Anita Bowerman, who offered to hold a workshop for the nuns at the abbey. Mother Abbess, Andrea Savage, said: ‘The magic of reviving this special craft was evident in the delight of the nuns who had never done this before. It’s a joy for us to resurrect an old tradition which could so easily have been lost to the community.’

Anita, who is based at Dove Tree Art Studio and Gallery, Harrogate, said she felt honoured to have been allowed to see the ancient paper cuts. She added: ‘I was asked by Sister Scholastica to show the Community how to paper cut so that they could carry on this ancient tradition and produce new artworks for themselves and the abbey.’

Anita Bowerman explains the intricacies of paper cuttingAnita Bowerman explains the intricacies of paper cutting

She taught eight nuns, whose ages ranged from 30 years to 80 years. ‘They easily picked up the basics and created perfect paper cuts,’ said Anita. ‘I would like to particularly thank Abbess Andrea and Sister Julian for arranging the day. The light and countryside surrounding the abbey is simply breathtaking and I love to spend time there. I am looking forward to returning to Stanbrook to see the paper cuts which I hear the nuns have been busy creating. I hear they were inspired.’

Stanbrook Abbey is believed to be the world’s first environmentally friendly nunnery. The unconventional building features an economical woodchip boiler, solar panels, rainwater harvesting and a sedum roof. The nuns relocated there in 2009 from a monastery in Worcestershire that became too expensive to maintain.

Various arts and crafts are practised at the abbey: book-binding, calligraphy, weaving, painting, photography and handcrafts. The community has a strong literary tradition, and hospitality is an important aspect of their work. Then there are the usual household tasks of cleaning, cooking, making and repairing clothes. They are also developing gardening.

Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman teaches the ancient art of paper cutting to Sister Julian Falkus (left) and Sister Mary Stephen Agbons, two of the Benedictine nuns at Stanbrook AbbeyHarrogate artist Anita Bowerman teaches the ancient art of paper cutting to Sister Julian Falkus (left) and Sister Mary Stephen Agbons, two of the Benedictine nuns at Stanbrook Abbey

The motto of the monastery is ‘consolamini, consolamini’ which means, ‘be consoled’ and the nuns welcome visitors; accommodation is available in one of the nine wooden lodges on the property.

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