The village of Aylesford, outside Maidstone Kent, is a quaint old settlement on the Medway River, with a lovely old bridge. Just outside the village is a working priory, belonging to the Carmelite order. Much of it is open to visitors. On a wet day in February I dragged my husband round the rosary walk, the peaceful garden, the chapel, the pottery and the Priors Hall.
The Carmelite order began in the 12th century as a few pilgrims from Europe settling as hermits in a valley of Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, the site where the prophet Elijah prayed and saw a small rain cloud after a long drought. About 1235, the movements of the Saracens induced them to return to Europe. A returning crusader, Richard de Grey, gave them some land in the village of Aylesford. In 1538 they lost the priory to private hands under Henry VIII’s upheavals, but in 1949 it was purchased back.
Two Carmelites have become familiar names to us today, both Spanish and both mystics. One was John of the Cross, author of The Dark Night of the Soul. The other was Teresa of Avila. If the name is not familiar to you, look up Bernini’s sculpture of her. It shows an angel plunging a spear into her heart, leaving her aflame with love for God. The extravagant drama of this baroque piece seems quite at odds with the calm of the Carmelite priory I visited, but both are moving.
The village itself is very quiet. The Hengist restaurant, named doubtless after the friend of Horsa, is a lovely building. The church was locked up so we hunted angels in the graveyard instead. There is definitely a story to be written about the one with all the ivy!