Notebook

Our Lady of the Snows

‘I have rarely approached anything with more unaffected terror’, wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, ‘than the monastery of Our Lady of the Snows.’ Such is the effect a house of God can have. Yet on closer acquaintance this Trappist abbey, where Charles de Foucauld would later begin monastic life, appeared to him full, not only of eccentrically lovable people, but of intrinsic attractiveness. Stevenson went on his way, he records, ‘with unfeigned regret’. Today something remarkable happened in Our Lady of the Snows. Having been home to Trappist monks for 172 years, it changed hands and was taken over by Cistercian nuns from the thriving abbey of Boulaur in the Gers. Sending the foundresses off yesterday, Mother Abbess said: ‘May they attract numerous vocations so as to found in their turn’. It may seem over-daring to charge a not-yet-founded community with the task of founding – but no, such is the logic of being fully alive: we receive the gift of life, natural and supernatural, to pass it on; our task is not only to flourish, but to bear fruit. Were we more alert to this fact, much in the Church (and indeed in the world) would look different.