What do a Convent in Chesterfield and a town in Spain have in common?  They are both places of pilgrimage and prayer.

An experience of prayer and retreat at The Portiuncula           at St Clare’s Convent, Clay Cross, Chesterfield.

  During a difficult time recently, a good friend suggested I might benefit from a short retreat at The Portiuncula in Clay Cross.  I hadn’t heard of The Portiuncula, but what I read on the Internet intrigued me … so I booked a two-night Residential Solitude Retreat, including spiritual accompaniment.  The following week, I found myself driving along Stretton Road from Chesterfield, through Clay Cross and turning right at the sign for St Clare’s Convent.

  I was warmly greeted by Sr Patricia Jordan and guided through a beautiful orchard to The Portiuncula.  Entering this simple yet thoughtfully constructed building, the sense of peace was palpable.  Opposite the entrance is a wonderful, hand-painted depiction of Our Lady surrounded by four angels, and on the right, a small circular chapel.  Words cannot adequately describe the beauty of this chapel: the ‘cave-like’ entrance, gold and red tabernacle, flaming sanctuary lamp, crucifix, statue of Our Lady, stained glass windows and paintings of The Four Angels, have all been prayerfully designed using symbolism from biblical and Franciscan themes.

  Sr Patricia then showed me the Carceri Hermitage, which would be my sacred and personal space during my solitude experience.  The walls were painted a gentle yellow, which in iconography symbolizes truth, light, happiness and joy.  The room was comfortable, clean and welcoming, with stunning views across the hills of the Amber Valley.  Each of the five en-suite hermitages is named after scenes and themes from the life of St Francis of Assisi.

  I spent some time before lunch in the peaceful Contemplation Space, prayerfully listening to water rippling gently from the fountain, water that has been blessed at Masses and from shrines all around the world, and gazing at a stunning replica of the San Damiano cross and a beautiful glass plaque symbolising the transcendence of the Holy Spirit.

The Contemplation Space at The Portiuncula

  A hot lunch was provided in Bethany Dining Room, where fellow pilgrims can eat in companionable silence.  After this I walked up to the Peace Garden and spent some time sitting in the sunshine, in quiet preparation, before entering and walking the labyrinth and the Way of the Cross.

The Peace Garden

  In the afternoon, tea and a light snack was provided in Bethany Dining Room, and at 3pm the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the chapel for a Holy Hour of adoration and prayer.  Before dinner, I enjoyed some time resting, reading and reflecting in my hermitage, and enjoying the lovely view.  I had begun to adjust to the blessed silence by now and already felt much calmer than when I arrived.  As the sun set over the Amber Valley, I gave thanks for this time of peace and healing.

  The two days passed all too quickly and it was soon time to return to hectic 21st century life.  But I brought back with me an inner peace that has continued to sustain me over a difficult time.

  Sr Patricia’s two books: Come Apart and Rest for a While and An Affair of the Heart (www.gracewing.co.uk) offer a prayerful guide for a time ‘set apart’ – whether at home or in a hermitage – including detailed and illustrated descriptions of The Portiuncula.

  For further information or to book a Solitude Experience contact: The Franciscan Sisterhood, The Portiuncula, St Clare’s Convent, Stretton Road, Clay Cross, Derbyshire, S45 9AQ.  Tel: 01246 251870/01246 862621, email: portiuncula@franciscansm.org, website: www.franciscansm.org/portiuncula.