I met Uncle
Aelred in 1956 as a result of visiting an elderly lady in Bedford who remarked
that Sillem was a rare name and that she new Fr Aelred Sillem at Quarr. She
gave me the address and I wrote to him. He was to become a dear friend and
confidante to me. I was just 16 the first time we met at a Benedictine Convent
in Royston, Herts, which has long since closed.
Frederick Sillem was born on the 29th October 1908 in Deal, Kent. His parents were Steuart Augustus
Sillem, b 1866 d 1950 who was a barrister. His mother was Marie Benson b 1862 d
1937. He was the 4th son of their marriage and the last. He was educated at
Downside which is a Catholic boarding school in Somerset and went up to Oxford to read History in which he gained
a double first. He was extraordinarily gifted and I am told would have made a
fine historian. After Oxford he taught at Downside for a while
and then decided to enter the monastery. He decided that he did not want to be
a schoolmaster for the rest of his life so transferred to the monastery at
Quarr in the Isle
of Wight. Quarr
is part of the French Benedictine Congregation with the main house being at
Solesmes with the accent on contemplation. He took the religious name of Aelred
after a saint who founded a Cistercian monastery at Rievaulx in North Yorkshire.
By the time
I met him he had become Prior of Quarr, an appointment made by the Abbot of the
time. In facial appearance he looked very similar to my Aunt Joyce who was my
adopted father's sister. My grandfather and Dom Aelred's father were brothers
which is why I referred to him as uncle. He was of an older generation and in
those days, young people showed respect for their elders. Later on in the
1950's the Abbot died and an election took place as is the custom for a new
abbot. I well remember the letter he sent me at the time which said: "my
crazy brethren have elected me abbot". He was to stay in post for 35
years, being re elected every 6 years.
As abbot he
concentrated on the spiritual growth of his brethren rather than expand
buildings, guest house etc which has happened since. He appointed Dom Joseph
Warrilow as his Prior who had entered the monastery about the same time as him.
He too was a lovely man and there is an biography written of him. Sadly Dom
Aelred never kept any of his talks to the monks or sermons that he preached. All
I have is a collection of letters which are personal rather than information
for a book. I should have loved to have written more about him but in many
ways he was a very private person. Some considered him rather aloof but I never
found him so.
In the late
1970's there was a convocation of Benedictine Abbots and Abbesses in Durham. At the end of this they were
invited to sing Vespers in the cathedral at which Fr Aelred, complete with
mitre, was the main celebrant. I have to say I was very proud of him. He took
me on a conducted tour of the cathedral and knew all about its history despite
having never been there before.
end of the 1980's he sadly contracted throat cancer and finally his bretheren
accepted his resignation as Abbot. A new Abbot was elected in Dom Leo Avery, a
former aeronautical engineer and a fine man too. At that point Dom Aelred
wanted to leave Quarr and move to a monastery in France so as not to impinge on the new
Abbot. He spoke both French and German fluently, however, by 1990 the illness
was starting to take its toll and he was not able to move abroad. At the
funeral Abbot Leo said that they were pleased that they had had this extra time
with him in order to show him how much the community loved him and wanted to
care for him. He, himself, never seemed to recognise the high regard in which
he was held.
He died in
May 1994 having not moved or spoken for the last four days of his life. Perhaps
his soul had gone before. The funeral was on the 19th
the feast day of some early Christian saints. It was for me a very sad
occasion, nearly as difficult as losing my son. He had been the only consistent
person in my life for 40 years and I still miss his wisdom and kindness a lot.