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The murder of Abbey House

Posted by Simon Parke, 02 August 2017, 5.58am

Abbey House, set in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, is to close.

The Abbey House trustees have been given notice to quit on December 27th, 2017.

If you don’t know it, Abbey House – a bit spooky on first sight - was built in the Tudor Gothic style in 1830 from the stones of the abbey ruins.

Originally a family home, it was brought by the Bath and Wells diocese after being advertised as ‘a gentleman’s residence with interesting ruins in the garden.’

For eighty five years since then, it has offered kind holding to visitors.

But now Glastonbury Abbey Ltd want it back, so it can become offices and the like for their business development of the site.

There’s not much money in retreats; but a great deal of money in a well-run ruin.

I write about this with a personal agenda.

I have hosted many retreats at Glastonbury.

For many years, it has been the wonderful home for (the now homeless) ‘Beautiful Life’ retreat.

But it is never about the words or the leader at Abbey House; and always about the space.

The sun setting over the Abbey is pretty special to be with during the evening sessions in the big front room.

And it isn’t just the view.

Abbey House is my favourite retreat centre because it always feels like home rather than an institution.

It started life as a family home and has never lost that sense.

And while it’s the retreat house for the Bath and Wells diocese, it doesn’t feel ‘religious’.

So no belief system is required or encouraged by the space. It allows you to be who you are…which is important on retreat.

Let our retreat space break all imposition of views.

But now this must end, we must all get sensible. We must all get corporate and offices must prevail, business development et al.

Perhaps if it had become a conference centre it could have made enough money to keep the accountancy wolves at bay.

But this is the thing: a retreat is not a conference.

A conference is busy, stimulating, ideas-based.

A retreat is un-busy, stilling, a journey beneath ideas…the total surrender to the truth of ourselves.

In the present financial climate, retreat centres are struggling; everyone needs money to survive.


And sadly, perhaps those most geared to survival are the niche hideaways for those in the niche.

To its eternal glory, Abbey House has never been in a niche. It’s just been a home.

As it started, so it finishes.

So I find its legal murder difficult.

Life is change, this is so…but we don’t have to applaud, and it is important to note what is lost.

The world does not need more conference centres; we won’t be changed by ideas.

But it does need more kind, non-judgemental, holding, beautiful, affordable, homely space.

And this is what will die on December 27th , sacrificed on the bullshit altar of business development.

In our end is our beginning, let it be so.

Kind space is dead!

Long live kind space!


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