The first word that comes to the mind of visitors is “WOW”.
Situated within 40 acres of spectacular buildings, breathtaking grounds, woodlands, formal gardens and pasture, The Friars is framed by the natural environment.
Come and enjoy a peaceful walk in the Peace garden or enjoy walks down Rosary Way or the Avenue. Watch the children feed the ducks at the pond. Duck feed can be purchased from either the reception or at the gift shop. Pick up “The Friars Heritage Trail” from the reception to help you navigate your way round the site. Come and experience the amazing work of art by Polish artist Adam Kossowski. BE PREPARED TO BE AMAZED!
The Great Courtyard
It should be immediately apparent that you are entering the oldest part of the Friars. If the buildings of The Courtyard feel more Elizabethan than medieval it’s because many windows were replaced in the 17th century. There’s one building that is much younger than all the others, though it is difficult to spot, the kitchen which dates back to the 1950s.
The Pilgrims’ Hall is the oldest building in the Great Courtyard, probably late 13th century, and served as a shelter for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. Hospitality is an important part of the Carmelite culture and goes back to the origins of the Order when hermits living on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land offered shelter to Pilgrims. The friars at Aylesford continue that tradition in the Pilgrims’ Hall – the building above the river with the oldest walls and most colourful history. In the centuries after its construction in 1280, the Pilgrims’ Hall became a barn, then a brewery, alms house and even the headquarters for a Scouts group. Today, hot meals and a roaring fire once again invite visitors in from the outside, though the hearth is now set into the wall.
As you exit the Pilgrims’ Hall, note the clever use of recycling as you walk towards the Priors’ Hall: the mechanism that operates the bell is made from an old bicycle wheel.
Two venerable rows of houses form an L-shape around the west side of the courtyard, providing modern stone-carved statue, crafted by Michael Clark. Most depict Carmelite saints.
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The Priors’ Hall and the Cloisters are entered by steps past the stone horse mount. Pass through the cloisters and into the Main Shrine. Polish artist, Adam Kossowski is best known for his distinctive ceramic tile work in the chapels, but in the 15th-century Priors’ Hall, you see his skill as a painter. The panels tell the story of the Carmelites from the hermits on Mount Carmel and their arrival in England, to being driven out by Henry VIII’s Commissioners and eventual return in 1949. Adam Kossowski has left his imprint on Aylesford. His art was an act of thanksgiving for his release from a slave labour camp in Russia. The tiles on the windowsill in the Prior’s Hall come from the medieval church and were possibly floor tiles.
A devastating fire in 1930 gutted the adjoining Cloisters. Also destroyed was the sumptuous ballroom on the first floor, which was built by a wealthy banker in the 1660s during the conversion of the medieval priory into an opulent country house.
The architect of the Shrine was Adrian Gilbert Scott whose family was known for Gothic architecture. You can use one of those featured in the main shrine gallery. Open-air Mass is held throughout summer in the spacious piazza, which was built in the 1950s, along with most of the chapels, by the friars, local tradesmen and volunteers. It’s a huge space, yet embracing and can accommodate thousands of pilgrims. Most weekends in summer, groups from Poland, the Caribbean, Portugal, Tamil and the UK fill the arena with music, prayer and song. The magnolia tree spreading along the wall on your left is thought to be 300 years old.
The Shrine is dominated by the sculpture of the Virgin Mary, carved by Michael Clark in 1960. Its original gold paint detracts from the beauty of the statue which is the focal point of the Shrine, containing some earth from the Well of the Prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel. On pilgrimage days processions wend their way through Rosary Way praying and singing.
The first chapel you come to is the Cloister Chapel. This Chapel was restored by Mrs Alice Hewitt after the fire in 1930 and was licensed by the Bishop of Rochester for worship. It is now a place for quiet prayer and meditation. Midday mass is held here during winter. In summer, the Choir Chapel – perhaps the most simply decorated of all the chapels at the Friars holds the midday Mass.
Tucked in the corner before you reach the Main Shrine, is the St Anne’s Chapel, memorable for its green walls and simplicity. The scraffito work and ceramics are all by Kossowski. Behind the altar you’ll see a 15th-century statue depicting the mother of Our Lady, Anne. St Joseph’s Chapel flanks the far side of the Shrine. Here, Kossowski is at his best. The scenes are dramatic and on a scale not seen anywhere else in the priory. Of particular importance are the scenes from the life of the prophet Elijah, an inspirational figure for Carmelites.
Moving along the Cloisters, the visitor comes to the entrance to the small Cloister Chapel. This was restored by Mrs Alice Hewitt after the fire in 1930 and was licensed for worship by the Bishop of Rochester. It is now a place for quiet prayer and meditation. On the back altar there is a statue of the Infant of Prague from the Carmelite church in that city. In the niche near the entrance there is a Kossowski statue of St Jude and the lovely flos Carmeli window by Moira Forsyth, which was a gift of the artist.
The first chapel in the shrine area is the Choir Chapel where the Carmelite community comes together each day for Mass and the celebration of the Divine Office. To the right of the Main Shrine is a small chapel dedicated to St Anne, mother of Our Lady.
Large glass doors to the left of the Shrine lead into the Relic Chapel. Behind the altar stands the reliquary containing the skull of St Simon Stock. The reliquary, designed by Adam Kossowski, represents the cells of the hermits of Mount Carmel. Kossowski’s powerful representation of the Stations of the Cross, which decorate the walls of the chapel, tell the story of Christ’s last journey. The small chapel to the right celebrates the Saints of Carmel; as well as the great figures of Teresa, Thérèse and John of the Cross there are two recent martyrs, Titus Brandsma and Edith stein, who were victims of the holocaust. To the left is the chapel of the English and Welsh Martyrs, commemorating those who died between 1535 and 1680.
The Chapel to the left of the piazza is dedicated to St Joseph. Behind the altar there is a forceful statue of St Joseph by Michael Clark. The ceramics here are perhaps the finest examples of Kossowski’s works.
The Rosary Way is the most peaceful part of the Friars where visitors come to pray and reflect. As you wind your way through the wooded grounds towards the large shrine of the Scapular vision, you are following in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who have walked this trail in prayer, stopping at each of the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary displayed along the walls.
Walking back from the Rosary Way, the visitor comes to a pond full of ducks, swans and water hens. Children are allowed to feed the ducks. Duck feed can be purchased from reception or the gift shop.
The Peace Garden
Enter the Peace Garden through the medieval gatehouse. On entering the Peace Garden, you will find yourself in the most recently landscaped area (laid out in 2012), which has been thoughtfully designed to instil a sense of calm with its fountains, seating areas and beautiful plants. The word “peace” is translated into 300 languages on tiles at your feet, acting as a symbol of striving for peaceful integration of all in society, locally, nationally and internationally.
The concept of creating a Peace Garden was first discussed in 2006, when Jayne Hoose had used the site as a place to escape whilst suffering from ME and Jayne felt that producing the Peace Garden was a way of giving something back and providing space which would be open to all who sought the sanctuary she had found there. The fundraising was started with a gift of £1000 from local Funeral director Paul Rowland and was supported by Gallaghers who undertook the preparation of the site for the garden’s installation.
The West Barn
Our restored 17th-century West Barn, houses a Tea Room and Gift Shop. The Tea Room is open daily all year round (except Christmas week) and offers visitors a wide range of refreshments and light snacks.
The Gift Shop sells religious items like rosaries, crucifixes, statues and jewellery, all at reasonable prices.
The North Barn
Hold your wedding reception and other events at our historic North Barn.
The tradition of producing hand-made Japanese glazed stoneware is continuing at The Friars. The Pottery is one of the few surviving commercial potteries in the southeast of England making a range of handmade thrown and hand-built ceramics, plus architectural commissions. The pottery also runs a school for over 100 students. Visitors will find Alan Parris and Billy Byles at work throwing pots.
Visitors can also browse the gallery of their work seven days a week. Alan and Billy are the two master potters who run the pottery today.
The Friars is open 365 days a year and entry is free.
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