Holy Cross Monastery, Rostrevor

The new Benedictine monastery of the Holy Cross is located just outside Rostrevor, Co. Down in the Kilbroney valley. It accommodates a community of twelve monks together with facilities for eight retreatants. It includes a chapel, refectory, workshop and other ancillary accommodation necessary for the ecumenical outreach of the community.


The integration of the building into its sensitive natural location has been carefully considered. The site slopes down with a variety of gradients from the Kilbroney Road to the river. The building is located at the center of the site away from the road as a condition of planning permission.  Here floor level is well below that of the road virtually concealing it from that direction. From the river the building is more conspicuous but integrated into the site by means of architectural form and natural vegetation. The plan and section of the building have been arranged such that public and private circulation does not overlap. Main rooms in the monastery take advantage of views across the river whilst retreatants’ accommodation enjoys a southern aspect down the valley.


The chapel is at the heart of the complex and is where the public and private, secular and holy meet. It has been designed so that the monks and the visiting worshipping community gather around a central altar.  A tabernacle is to one side in a large recess on axis with the monks’ entrance.  The ambo is placed centrally at the rear of the chapel with the altar and congregation before it in order to emphasize the relationship of Word to Eucharist in the presence of the worshipping community.


The indigenous built environment is characterized by small pitched-roof units arranged in groups of two or more. The monastery is larger than most of these buildings, therefore it has been broken down into separate two-story blocks arranged around two cloisters. These blocks are connected by glazed links. The building is further integrated by means of fenestration with a vertical emphasis, respecting the traditional arrangement of windows in vernacular buildings.


Despite the size of the monastery, the building will occupy only a small percentage of the site. The strategy for the rest of it is to minimize intervention in order that its natural characteristics are respected.  There are new paths so that monks and guests can be inspired by the natural surroundings during periods of contemplation and meditation. The geological nature of the site is that of glacial till and large boulders deposited by glaciers during the ice age. These boulders have been unearthed during construction and will be reused as features in the network of contemplative paths.

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