St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough

St. Michael's Abbey

St. Michael's Abbey Church
Location within Hampshire
Monastery information
Other names Farnborough Abbey
Order Benedictine
Established 1881
Dedicated to St. Michael
Diocese Portsmouth
Controlled churches St. Michael's Abbey Church
Founder(s) Eugénie de Montijo
Abbot Dom Cuthbert Brogan
Important associated figures
Location Farnborough, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°17′48″N 0°45′00″W / 51.2968°N 0.7499°W / 51.2968; -0.7499
Grid reference SU873560
Public access Yes

Saint Michael's Abbey is a Benedictine abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire, England. The small community is known for the quality of its liturgy, which is sung in Latin and Gregorian Chant, its pipe organ, and its liturgical publishing and printing. It is also the national shrine of St Joseph. Public tours of the Abbey take place every Saturday at 3pm, with the tour comprising a tour of the church and a visit to the crypt. Organ recitals are held on the first Sunday afternoon of the month between May and October at 3pm.


Following the fall of the Second French Empire in 1870, Napoleon III (18081873), his wife Empress Eugénie (18261920) and their son the Prince Imperial (18561879) were exiled from France and took up residence in Chislehurst, England, where Napoleon III died in 1873. He was originally buried at St Mary's Catholic Church, Chislehurst, but, following the death of the Prince Imperial in 1879, the grief-stricken Eugénie set about building a monument to her family. She founded the abbey in 1881 as a mausoleum for her husband and son, wishing that the burial place should be a place of prayer and silence.[1] The Abbey included an Imperial Crypt, modelled on the altar of St Louis in France, where the Emperor had originally desired to be buried.,[1] where Eugénie was later buried alongside her husband and son. All three rest in granite sarcophagi provided by Queen Victoria. The Abbey Church itself was designed in an eclectic flamboyant gothic style by the renowned French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur and contains the thigh bone of St Alban, the largest relic of the saint in England.

After the church and monastery were founded, they were initially administered by Premonstratensian Canons. In 1895, the Empress replaced them with French Benedictine monks from St Peter's Abbey, Solesmes. Fernand Cabrol, monk and scholar, became prior and afterwards abbot (1903); Henri Leclercq and a small group of French monks joined the house at the same time, and Leclercq and Cabrol collaborated for many years in scholarly endeavours. The church's present two-manual organ was installed in 1905, built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll & Company. The instrument's origins are shrouded in mystery. Although installed after the death of Cavaillé-Coll, it bears his name rather than that of his son-in-law Mutin, and the internal works are of a quality which identifies this model with the highest standards of workmanship of the high days of that company.

The medieval scholar Dom André Wilmart (1876-1941) was a liturgist at the abbey. The community, once famed for its scholarly writing and musical tradition of Gregorian chants, became depleted in number by 1947, and was augmented by a small group of English monks from Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire. The last French monk, Dom Zerr, died in 1956. In 2006 the community elected the first English Abbot of Farnborough—the Right Reverend Dom Cuthbert Brogan.

Catholic National Library

The Catholic Central Library was set up by the Catholic Truth Society after the First World War. It was for many years maintained by the Graymoor Friars in Westminster until they were obliged to withdraw. It moved into the care of St Michael's Abbey in 2007 for a probationary period pending a final decision on its future. In 2007 it was renamed the Catholic National Library, and is one of the finest collections of Catholic books in England.


  1. 1 2 "The Crypt at St Michael's Abbey" (Website). St Michael's Abbey. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-26.
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