Compline at New Clairvaux

Chapter House exterior

Chapter House, exterior

[Today, the Compline Underground comes closer to what I’d envisioned when I started the blog several years ago. I not only wanted to write my own thoughts about Compline, but let the blog be a place where others can share theirs as well. And so that this space can be a real forum, I am establishing contacts with the more than eighty places outside monasteries in the U.S. and Canada where one might hear Compline regularly – daily, weekly, or seasonally. You can see these in the tab “Where to experience Compline.” Now I would like to introduce our first guest blogger, Jeff Reynolds. Jeff started a weekly Compline service at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Nevada City, California in 2009 and has since then written or arranged over 1600 pieces of music for Compline, suitable for various vocal combinations]:

Seldom in our lives are we presented with something so unlikely. As someone who lives in North America where the ancient past is considered 50 years, what are our chances to chant Compline in an 800-year-old Spanish Monastery’s Chapter House, or any 800-year-old structure?

Even if we could make a pilgrimage to Spain, we would find the main building of the Spanish Monastery has moved to Vina, in Northern California. William Randolph Hearst had workmen disassemble the Chapter House (built by the Monks, 1190-1220) and ship it to San Francisco in 1930. He had a vision to construct a bigger and more magnificent “Hearst Castle”, and the Chapter House would be a key element. He lost interest as he lost in the 30’s economy, and the limestone ‘stones’ gathered moss in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Chapter House interior

Chapter House, interior

The first abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of New Clairvaux petitioned the City of San Francisco to buy the stones for reassembly on the grounds of the abbey at Vina. They accepted his bid of one dollar and shipped the stones to the abbey where they were slowly reassembled by skilled stone masons. Over time some stones were pilfered from the Park and the masons had to improvise with some new pieces. On an Anglican men’s retreat of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (est. 1854) in Nevada City CA, we decided to chant Compline in the confines of the ‘sacred stones’, as they are called.

We had two men who had sung Compline before and two volunteers who could read music. I put a simple, medieval Compline together in book form and we had one rehearsal with the two that had never sung Compline before. The result was authentic, if not great. It was a truly mystical experience. You simply were not in the here and now. The ‘Stones’ seemed to radiate some ancient vibes of worship long past.

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  1. #1 by jeff reynolds on November 24, 2014 - 12:43 pm

    Ken, you’re breaking new ground here. Thanks for making the event public. Those other guys standing around in the circle were not singing but part of the spoken part.

  2. #2 by Ken Peterson on November 24, 2014 - 1:33 pm

    Thanks for doing this, Jeff! I have been interested in New Clairvaux ever since I saw this documentary on building the Gothic Cathedral on NOVA: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/building-gothic-cathedrals.html If one clicks on “WATCH THE PROGRAM” and advances to 11:40 or so, there is a segment on Hearst’s moving of the chapel, and the rebuilding.

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