Post-Dissolution house: Cistercian abbey of Mount Saint Bernard

Pages 53-54

A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1954.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


The Abbey of Mount Saint Bernard owes its origin to the generosity of Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle, (fn. 2) a Roman Catholic gentleman living at Grace Dieu, who in 1835 offered to purchase an estate in Charnwood Forest and to present it to the Cistercian Order. The offer was accepted, and De Lisle bought 222 acres of land with the aid of a loan from Dr. Walsh, the Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District. (fn. 3) Only 35 acres of the land were then under cultivation. (fn. 4) Before the end of 1835 six monks, led by Father Odilo Woolfrey as Superior, were established at Mount Saint Bernard. The mother house of the new monastery was the Irish abbey of Mount Melleray. (fn. 5) At first the monks lived in a four-roomed cottage, but before long temporary domestic buildings and a chapel were constructed. The chapel was consecrated in 1837 by Dr. Walsh. (fn. 6) De Lisle's resources were largely exhausted by the initial expense of establishing the monastery, and work on the permanent buildings was delayed for lack of money. (fn. 7) With the assistance of the Earl of Shrewsbury, (fn. 8) who gave £3,000, and of other benefactors, the most essential domestic buildings and the church were completed, at a cost of over £5,000, by 1844, (fn. 9) when the church was solemnly blessed and the new buildings were occupied. (fn. 10) Local stone was used for the monastery, and the buildings were designed by A. W. N. Pugin. (fn. 11) The monksy who by 1846 numbered more than thirty, themselves assisted in the building of the monastery, and were also busy in cultivating the land given by de Lisle. (fn. 12) In 1848 the monastery became an abbey, with Dom Bernard Palmer as its first abbot. (fn. 13) The new abbey obtained in 1849 a papal brief uniting it with the Cistercian congregation in France. (fn. 14)

The abbey continued to experience difficulties. The rule of the second abbot, Dom Bernard Burder, who was elected in 1853, led to various misunderstandings, and Dom Bernard resigned in 1858. (fn. 15) Under his successor progress was resumed, and various buildings, including the chapter house, were completed. (fn. 16) The abbey continued to suffer from financial difficulties, and from a lack of recruits to the community, for the rest of the 19th century. (fn. 17) Both difficulties were eventually overcome. Under Father Louis Carew, who was the Superior from 1910 to 1927, the material position of the abbey was much improved, and under his successor, Dom Celsus O'Connell, the number of monks was increased to more than seventy. (fn. 18) A visible sign of the monastery's progress was the building between 1935 and 1939 of the enlarged abbey church. The old church completed in 1844 became the choir of the new building, (fn. 19) and a nave, transepts, and a great tower above the crossing were added. (fn. 20) Although the new church was finished in 1939, it was not until 1945 that the church was consecrated by the Bishop of Nottingham. (fn. 21)

Abbots And Superiors Of Mount Saint Bernard

Odilo Woolfrey, appointed Superior 1835. (fn. 22)
Bernard Palmer, appointed Superior in succession to Odilo Woolfrey, (fn. 23) became Abbot 1848, (fn. 24) died 1852. (fn. 25)
Bernard Burder, elected Abbot 1853, resigned 1858. (fn. 26)
Bartholomew Anderson, appointed provisional Superior 1859, (fn. 27) elected Abbot 1862, (fn. 28) died 1890. (fn. 29)
Wilfrid Hipwood, elected Abbot 1890, (fn. 30) died 1910. (fn. 31)
Louis Carew, appointed provisional Superior 1910, (fn. 32) died 1927. (fn. 33)
Celsus O'Connell, appointed Superior 1927, (fn. 34) elected Abbot 1929, (fn. 35) became Abbot of Mount Melleray 1933. (fn. 36)
Malachy Brasil, elected Abbot 1933. (fn. 37)


  • 1. This account is largely based on Morson's book.
  • 2. Originally named Ambrose Phillipps, he assumed the surname of de Lisle. See D.N.B.
  • 3. Morson, Cistercian Monks of Mount St. Bernard, 16; E. S. Purcell, Life of Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle, 66.
  • 4. White, Leics. Dir. (1846), 367.
  • 5. Morson, Cistercian Monks of Mount Saint Bernard, 16; Purcell, Life of de Lisle, 66.
  • 6. J. Morson, op. cit. 16; Purcell, op. cit. 75.
  • 7. Purcell, op. cit. 74, 76.
  • 8. The 16th earl: Complete Peerage, xi, 726.
  • 9. White, Leics. Dir. (1846), 367; Purcell, Life of de Lisle, 77-78; on the benefactions of the Earl of Shrewsbury to other foundations, see M. Trappes-Lomax, Pugin, 100-1. It is sometimes stated that the sum given by the earl was £2,000, but the total amount given by him was £3,000. See Purcell, op. cit. 7778.
  • 10. Purcell, op. cit. 82; Morson, Cistercian Monks of Mount Saint Bernard, 18.
  • 11. Purcell, op. cit. 77-78; Morson, op. cit. 18; White, Leics. Dir. (1846), 367.
  • 12. Purcell, op. cit. 75; White, op. cit. 367.
  • 13. Morson, Cistercian Monks of Mount Saint Bernard, 18.
  • 14. Purcell, Life of de Lisle, 86.
  • 15. Morson, Cistercian Monks of Mount Saint Bernard, 18-19.
  • 16. Ibid. 19-20.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Ibid. 20.
  • 19. The old ch. had originally been intended for the nave of the completed structure. W. White, Leics. Dir. (1846), 367.
  • 20. Morson, Cistercian Monks of Mount Saint Bernard, 21.
  • 21. Ibid. 22.
  • 22. Ibid. 16.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid. 18.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Ibid. 19.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Ibid. 20.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Ibid.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. Ibid. Formerly Prior of Mount St. Joseph, Roscrea, co. Tipperary.