Joseph Leycester Lyne (1837-1908), Fr Ignatius, was undoubtedly an enthusiastic, colourful and challenging figure. He was also a pioneer in monasticism in the Church of England. A biographer of Fr Ignatius has written “In life much that he did and said was clouded by bigotry, narrowness and self deception. But now the sediment has settled, we see as his conspicuous quality the purity of faith which was the essence of his enthusiasm.’
In the 1870’s Fr Ignatius attempted to establish a monastery at the ‘new Llanthony’ near Abergavenny, a beautiful location in the Black Hills. Fr Ian, with Fr Michael Burgess, recently attended the annual Fr Ignatius pilgrimage day there – an annual pilgrimage is held ‘to the glory of God, in honour of our Lady, and in memory of Father Ignatius as a holy man, who pioneered the revival of religious life among men in the Anglican Communion.’ During the enjoyable and inspiring pilgrimage Abbot Cuthbert OSB, RC Abbot of Farnborough gave an excellent address. (Click here to read it).
Abbot Cuthbert suggested we should avoid being judge and jury on Fr Ignatius – a life which looks like a life and enterprise full of hopes and enthusiasm, but with little fruits now – just the ‘bare, ruined choir’ of the Abbey church he built and the history of a community that seemed to fall apart and then re-form on a regular basis. This is probably because Fr Ignatius tried to be both an abbot of a monastery following the Benedictine rule of dedication and stability, and also a missionary – travelling around the country and across to America to raise funds for his enterprise.
Fr Michael remarked that the nearest analogy he can think of is St Francis of Assisi – who in his day was regarded with great suspicion by the church authorities because he was on the edge of the institutional church of his day – with followers wandering from town to town, and village to village. The church authorities could not tie him down – and Francis only received papal approval for the order late in his ministry.
Fr Ignatius was also regarded with that same suspicion – and even mockery – by the church authorities of his day. But that did not dampen his enthusiasm and vision. The sadness is that, although a deacon in the Anglican church, he was priested by a bishop outside the Anglican fold (probably in desperation to ensure his fellow monks could be sacramentally fed). This meant that no Anglican bishop would recognise Fr Ignatius and his order – and so after his death, the monks went to Caldey Island and then inevitably, because of the attitude of the Anglican bishops, into the Roman Catholic Church.
Fr Michael comments, “When we gathered at the pilgrimage I saw it as a celebration of one of the inspiring figures of the Church – joining that great cloud of witnesses that Hebrews writes of – running with perseverance the race set before him, looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of faith, and enduring the cross to be faithful to the vision of a new era of monastic life in the church. Ignatius endured much hardship – days when food was short for him and the monks, the anger of mobs, the disapproval and even ridicule of bishops and so forth. He was a mixture of St Benedict and St Francis, giving his life to revive and revitalise the church of his day – so he also had the spirit of the revivalists of his day.” Fr Ignatius life and witness challenge, enthuse and inspire us to this day, and invite the Church to be open to challenge from unusual places.