Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Ferrar and his family largely created a community of prayer. The manor and little church attached to the manor became an outpost of continual prayer following the designs of the Book of Common Prayer. As the story goes, someone from the family was always in the chapel at prayer, day or night. They took literally the Biblical call to pray without ceasing.
This, of course, was the days between Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in England and the revival of any form of monasticism or religious orders in England that really didn't arise again until the 1800s. Because they did appear to be somewhat monastic in tone even though Ferrar himself was adamant that they were not, the Puritans assailed the little community vigorously.
About ten years after Ferrar died, Cromwell's army, under the direction of the Puritans, forcibly broke up the community as a "vestige of popery." Why the Puritans were so threatened by a family at prayer in a small corner of Cambridgeshire is somewhat baffling. Ferrar was largely innocuous and wrote treatises on various Christian virtues and faith. His family also was a pioneer in publishing some beautiful Gospel harmonies that still exist to this day in England. Despite the Calvinists best efforts at intimidation and forced closure, Ferrar's experiment in prayer did lead to the foundation for a revival in monasticism and religious communities within the Church of England some centuries later.
The chapel at Little Gidding is still in operation on occasion. You can explore it online here and here. There is also a guild you can join that is centered on prayer.
To ponder the meaning of community life and prayer, TS Eliot wrote a poem in which he paid homage to Ferrar's project: