Buckfast Abbey is home to a community of Benedictine Monks who live work and pray in a small monastery on the edge of Dartmoor. They still practice the tradition of welcoming all and the Abbey is now a major tourist attraction receiving thousands of visitors each year.
It is a lovely site surrounded by attractive gardens. Despite the numbers of visitors, there is a sense of peace and quiet as soon as you walk through the gate and birdsong everywhere.
The Abbey is self supporting with a farm and shop selling wine, honey beeswax, fudge and other items made by religious communities throughout the world. Buckfast Tonic wine has been made since the 1890s using a traditional French recipe and was marketed as a medicine using the slogan "Three small glasses a day, for good health and lively blood”. The Monks have traditionally kept bees. Breeding has created their own variety of bee, the Buckfast bee, which is a good pollen gatherer, normally gentle, less likely to swarm and also resistant to mites causing Acarine disease which has wiped out colonies in the past.
There has been an Abbey here since 1018. By the C14th it was one of the wealthiest Abbeys in the South West. It had fisheries on local rivers and owned extensive sheep runs on Dartmoor.
After the dissolution of the Monasteries, the buildings were stripped and left in ruins. 1.5 tons of gold, gilt and silver, from the treasures of the abbey, were delivered to the Tower of London.
The site was bought by local mill owner, Samuel Berry, in 1800. He cleared the ruins and built a grand mansion, although some of the smaller buildings survived as barns. The site subsequently changed hands several times before being bought by Dr James Gale in 1872. Ten years later Gale decided to sell the site and was keen to offer it to a religious community. He placed an advert describing the Abbey as "a grand acquisition could it be restored to its original purpose."
The advert was seen by a group of Benedictine Monks whose monastery in France had been suppressed under a new law. They took out an immediate lease and arrived in Buckfast. Plans for a new abbey were drawn up and building work began on monastic buildings including a temporary church.
Work began with just £5 in funds, a load of stone and a horse and cart loaned by a kind neighbour. One monk was trained as a mason with a team of five others helping him. Construction methods were primitive. Wooden scaffolding was held together by ropes and no safety protection was worn by the monks. One monk fell 50 feet but survived. Three monks fell off a hoist without serious injury. Construction continued throughout World War I. Some monks were of German nationality, but were not sent to an internment camp on condition that they remained confined to the Abbey grounds.
Buckfast was formally reinstated as an Abbey in 1902 and the monks began work on a new abbey church in the Norman transitional/early English style began in 1907. The church was consecrated in 1932 although building wasn’t finished until 1938.