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St. Benedict’s Monastery, Adisham, Haputale, Sri Lanka

Adisham is Benedictine a Monastery owned by the Sylvestro Benedictine Congregation in Sri Lanka, where a Community of Benedictine Monks and Novices follow their motto `Ora et Labora’ which means to work and pray. Tranquility that prevails in the place is a blessing for them and for others who search God in silence and in prayer dedicating their lives to His service. The Monks and the Novices begin their day with the tolling of the rising bells in the mist covered dawn. The gong sounds to muster the tea estate labourers on neighbouring Glenanore Estate will be heard as the priests kneel in prayer in the little chapel at Adisham. The present Community comprises of three Priests, two Brothers and three Novices namely Very Rev. Fr. Michael Ekanayaka OSB the Superior and the Novice Master and Rev. Fr. Gregory Leonidas OSB, Rev. Fr. Stephen Abraham OSB, Rev. Bro. Lionel Perera OSB, Rev. Bro. Anthony Crooze OSB, Novice Yohan Wickramasekera, Novice Kokila Perera and Novice Miguel Casiechitty. The Benedictine Community of Adisham also looks after the nearby Parish of Idalgashinna and Rev. Fr. Gregory Leonidas is the Pastor in charge.

Adisham hall is a Tudor style, true Elizabethan Manor. It is situated in the Tangamalai bird sanctuary in the Haputale range, Badulla District, over 3 kilometres from Haputale town and at an elevation of 1500 metres. It was the dream home of the English aristocrat and planter Thomas Lister Villiers. Construction of the bungalow started in 1927 and was completed by 1931. The bungalow was purchased by the Sylvestro-Benedictine monks in 1960 and was subsequently converted to a monastery with the purpose of training the novices who enter the congregation. Adisham is a place where the unsurpassable beauty of nature and human endeavor blend together with God’s grace where the climate, the environment and the Benedictine heritage become the necessary prerequisites that transform ‘Adisham Hall’ into the Benedictine Monastery it is today.

Sir Thomas Lister Villiers

Thomas Lister Villiers was born unto Rev. Henry Montagu Villiers and Lady Victoria Russell on the 31st of October 1869 at Adisham Rectory, Kent. Rev. Henry Villiers belonged to the prominent Clarendon family while Lady Russell belonged to the Whig family of Bedford. The scion of these two well respected families connected Sir Thomas to the leading families in England, at that time. He was the grandson of twice Prime Minister, Sir John Russell and the cousin of the British philosopher, scientist and historian, Bertrand Russell. After completing his studies he vouched for an adventure in the then British colony of Ceylon rather than to settle down with a business or political career in England. Following his ambition, he arrived in 1887 with only ₤ 10 and within two decades had his own tea plantation.

Sir Thomas began life here as a trainee ‘creeper planter’ at Elbedda Estate, Norwood then after two years was appointed assistant superintendant of Tillyrie estate in Bogawantalawa. In 1895, he was transferred to Yoxford estate, Watagoda from Scrubs estate, Nuwara Eliya. He married Evelyn Hope, daughter of W.H. Walker in 1896 and she gave birth to their first child, Henry Lister Villiers in 1897. Lieutenant Henry Villiers died in action while serving in the British Army during World War I. Their second son, Thomas Hyde Villiers, was born in 1902 and died aged 53 in 1955. In 1900 Sir Thomas purchased Dikoya estate together with his brother Godfrey and he became a proprietary planter. After a planting career that lasted 18 years, Sir Thomas joined the firm, George Steuarts in 1905 and rose to be its chairman in 1928 at the age of 59. While he was chairman of the firm he commenced building his ‘dream home’ at a peaceful site in Haputale which is surrounded by a beautiful forest called ‘Thangamalai’ which means golden hills.

Sir Thomas Villiers entered the political arena in Ceylon, becoming a member of the Colombo Municipal Council and later entered national politics as a member of the legislative council. Sir Thomas debated in favour of the villagers and education for children and he debated against the employment of children as servants while in the council. He produced three books regarding the plantation industry, banking and business and they remain the only single source of information on those areas relating to British rule in Ceylon. With independence looming in the horizon, Sir Thomas decided to spend his twilight years in his own home in England. He died at the ripe old age of 90 in London on the 21st of December 1959.

The Dream House

A 10 acre (40,000 m2) plot of land was acquired to build Adisham hall, although it was alienated by its 1500m elevation a road was cut through the forest to pave the way to reach the land which has a panoramic view of hills, valleys and high mountain ranges of Ceylon. Site preparation for the building commenced in 1929. The house was designed by R. Booth and F. Webster in the Tudor style, on the outlines of Leeds castle in Kent. The design of the house with its stout granite walls of locally quarried stone, long narrow turret windows and chimneys bear witness to the memories flowing from Sir Thomas Villiers of his well loved home in Kent and his childhood. It is said that Indian masons were brought down and employed to do the stone work of the building. Sir Thomas and Lady Villiers became residents in this mansion in 1931. He named the mansion ‘Adisham’ after the family seat in England, Adisham Hall in Adisham village.

The Lancashire broadlooms on the chairs, Axminster carpets, card tables with Dutch marquetry and the Georgian gate-legged table set with chinaware made from jasper by the famous Wedgewood Company add great value to the house. Sir Thomas spared no expenses to ensure his mansion was luxurious even the roof is covered with flat Burma teak shingles. The doors, windows, paneling, staircase and floors are made of Burma teak. The guest house of the monastery was originally the apartment given by Sir Thomas to his British chauffer, Bill Morrison. The unique water system sends water that is pumped from the hill side from the boiler room to the upper floors without the use of a single motor. The mansion itself boasts its many treasures but the surrounding spacious lawns and beautiful orchards that yield English fruit expounds the majesty of Adisham. Terraced lawns, flower beds and the orchards like the drawing room, study, library and bedrooms look out on a lofty mountain range of unfathomable beauty. Camellias and multi-coloured cabbage roses bloom on the lawns while albertines, honeysuckle climb over porches. Strawberry, apple, wild guava and orange marmalade trees are heavy with fruit in the cool mountain air.

St. Benedict’s Monastery

Sir Thomas had little time to enjoy this luxury. In 1948 he retired from the position of chairman at George-Steuarts and he left the country in 1949. While in London, Miss Rukmini Gitanjeli Wijewardane, a Ceylonese student, met Sir Thomas and as a result of long negotiations Sir Thomas sold Adisham lock stock and barrel to Sedawatte estates Ltd. in 1951. After the death of the director, Mr. Don Charles Wijewardane, the company tried to sell the property and eventually mortgaged it to the bank in 1957. During the 60’s the Sylvestro-Benedictine congregation in Ceylon was searching for a suitable place to open another monastery with the aim of forming a novitiate. The Superior major of the congregation, Rev. Fr. Simon Tonini OSB, came to know that the Adisham bungalow is for sale. He immediately summoned the council and got their approval and accordingly negotiations started. The deed was signed by the directress of Sedawatte estates Ltd., Mrs. Rukmini Gitanjali Beligammana and director Don Lionel Amarasekara in October 1961. The Rev. Farthers came to reside in the house in December 1961. Adisham was consecrated as a Benedictine monastery and novitiate on the 8th of December 1962 and the blessing was done by Very Rev. Fr. Aidan de Silva OSB. Rev. Fr. D. Lawrence Hyde OSB was installed as the superior of the house, Rev. Fr. D. Bede Amarasinghe OSB as the novice master and Rev. Fr. D. Amedeo Visintainer as the bursar of the house. The priests developed and extended the strawberry, Seville orange and wild guava orchards which were the original Villiers orchard and one room was converted to a chapel where a reliquary of St. Sylvester was placed.

In the monastery the monk and the novice spend their life in prayer and work-contemplation and action guided by a superior and supported by a community of brethren. Situated in an environment conductive to solitude and silence, so essential for ‘communion with God’ the monk develops into ‘a man of God’. In this atmosphere, the monastery becomes a source of blessings to all who come there. In Adisham, the novices who are training for the monastic life discern their vocation to the monastic calling and measure up to their noble ideals.

The inmates of the monastery as well as a few villagers work in the garden and the diary and assist in the production of commercial items like strawberry jam, orange marmalade and guava jelly and they are marketed under the trade name ‘Adisham’. Thus they keep they earn their upkeep and maintain the monastery and keep the visitors satisfied.

Guest House

The former quarters of Bill Morrison, the chauffer of Sir Thomas, serves as the guest house of the monastery, which is open to those who want to spend a few days in tranquil surroundings and benefit from the spiritual support offered by the monks. A holiday here becomes an experience of a lifetime. Guests are enchanted by the spacious emerald lawns, rose garden, fruit trees and the overlooking misty mountain ranges. The monastery has opened its main sitting room and the room which was originally the library of Sir Thomas Villiers for the benefit of sightseers. The visiting hours are from 9:00 am to 12 noon and 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. It should be emphasized that Adisham is not in any way a commercial guest house and guests should not expect hotel facilities and they are expected to be considerate of the rules of the community.

May Adisham serve as a place where people meet God and She may live long as a dwelling of God.

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