Holy Cross Abbey was formally founded at Stapehill in Dorset on the Feast of all Saints of the Order on 13th November 1802. The founding group of women was led by Madame Augustin de Chabannes, a professed sister of the Parisian Abbey of Saint Antoine. She had been imprisoned in the Bastille, narrowly escaping the guillotine when the Bastille was stormed, and fleeing to Switzerland and a brief respite at La Val Sainte, before joining the monastic odyssey, which took the refugees across Europe in search of asylum.
Augustin de Chabannes understood the way of the Cross, teaching her daughters “not to forget that true devotion to the Cross consists in bearing generously the crosses God sends us”. She entrusted Holy Cross Abbey to Our Lady of Sorrows and indeed sorrows came in plenty. In the 1820s so many young sisters died that an enquiry was set up and Pope Leo XII decreed that the austerity of the Rules of Abbot de Rance should be mitigated and that the Community should come under the jurisdiction of the local Bishop. And so Madame de Chabannes and the sisters at Stapehill were cut off from the Order, and were left in isolation for almost 100 years until, in 1915, they were brought back under the jurisdiction of the Order. Madame de Chabannes knew the way of the Cross, suffering interminable isolation with no support from what was at the time a very fragmented Order. Nevertheless, in 1932 the Stapehill Community founded St Mary’s Abbey, Glencairn in Ireland, their Abbess becoming the first Abbess at Glencairn. And from that stock has grown five generations: Stapehill/Whitland, Glencairn, Wrentham, Mississippi, and Tautra in Norway.
In January 1991, under the leadership of Mother Catherine Priest, the Community moved to its present home at Whitland in Wales, just across the valley from the old Whitland Abbey founded by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in 1151. This came after a period of uncertainty as to the Community’s future, but supported by the Order, the move was made. Mother Catherine died in March 2002 and, later that year, the Community celebrated its bicentenary of foundation.