Historic weekend as Kelso resurrects French connection with religious order

HISTORY will be made this weekend when for the first time in 400 years an official party linked to the French monastic order which founded Kelso Abbey will be in the town.

The seven-strong party is from the Association Ordre De Tiron, which was set up 10 years ago to research the history of – and extend recognition for – the order, which has now almost vanished.

The Tironensian Order or the Order of Tiron was a Roman Catholic monastic order named after the location of the mother abbey – Tiron Abbey, established in 1109 in the woods of Tiron in Perche, some 35 miles west of Chartres.

Members of the order were nicknamed ‘grey monks’ because of their grey robes. The order itself had been founded three years previously by the Benedictine, Bernard de Ponthieu, also known as Bernard d’Abbeville (1046-1117).

A pre-Cistercian reformer, Bernard’s aim was to restore the asceticism and strict observance of the Rule of St Benedict in monastic life, insisting on manual labour.

The order expanded rapidly in France, England, Wales and Ireland, and its abbeys in Scotland included Selkirk (1113), Kelso (1128), Arbroath (1178), and Kilwinning (1140) in Scotland.

This weekend’s study trip to Scotland involves contact with local historical groups and the hope is to revive historical links between places such as Kelso and those in France.

Writing in a recent association newsletter, association president and Mayor of Thiron-Gardais, Victor Provot, said there was very little surving information concerning the Order of Tiron and the lifestyle in the abbeys and priories which it once owned.

“This is precisely the main goal of our association – to recreate bonds with the former dependencies in order to enrich knowledge of the order’s history,” he explained.

“We also want to plan a programme of various events to celebrate the 900th anniversary in 2014 of the construction of the abbey of Thiron-Gardais.

“Therefore we wish to invite, as the monks used to do in their time, all our friends from the dependencies in France, England, Eire and Scotland.

“It will be, I am certain, a very strong moment for the members of the association.”

Someone who has extensively research the hsitory of the order and hopes to meet with the French party when it visits Kelso on Sunday is Robin Lewis-Thomas, from Melrose.

“Monks from Tiron first came to Selkirk in the Borders, before King David I moved them to Kelso. He also granted them land at Fogo for the erection of a priory – although there was only really a single vicar ever there,” Mr Lewis-Thomas told TheSouthern this week.

He went on: “It was the smallest of the religious orders but had a huge impact.

“How many people know, for example, that it was monks from the order who wrote Scotland’s Declaration of Independence with Robert Bruce, to send to the Pope when King Edward II was trying to annex Scotland to England?

“The order also formed the first masonic movement and had permission from the Pope to build almost anywhere they liked.

“Strange as it may seem, they also taught local people who lived near their abbeys on how to use arms.”

Mr Lewis-Thomas says the order has now been almost totally disbanded.

He commented: “There are some orders still existing in England and at Elgin which follow some of the same ideas which the Tiron monks, who were reformed Benedictines, believed in.”

And he stressed: “The visit to Kelso and Scotland is very significant and will be the first time in 400 years that an official delegation has come from Tiron.”