It was sixty-four years ago today (5th December) that Margaret Agnes Rope died. However you will seek her grave in vain; only the permitted few are allowed to visit it.
And this is because Marga – aka Sister Margaret of The Mother Of God – died, and was buried, as she had latterly lived, away from public gaze, behind the walls of the estate of the convent of the ‘enclosed’ order of nuns that she had entered at the age of forty-one.
After her final vows, she lived without direct contact from very few but her sister nuns for thirty years.
Straw beds & six hours sleep
The Order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns is one that has a long history, and had a high reputation in the 1920s when Marga was looking for a religious life.
It is surprising that she did not join The Sisters Of Mercy or a Sisters Of Charity order – these were ones that a number of her relatives had joined. However, the Carmelite house at Woodbridge in Suffolk was near to where her paternal grandfather’s family lived, so it may just have been at hand, or Marga may have been positively attracted to the idea of leaving the public world behind – an aspect which the other orders could not offer.
However, it was no easy life she was opting for.
A contemporaneous account of life at the Woodbridge Carmelite house describes a tough life:
“These Woodbridge nuns observed the liturgical hours of Church through an eighteen hour day which began at 4.45am when they rose to sing the prayer of the Church together in choir. Their day was divided into periods of time for solitary meditation, communal recreation, and work.
At night they slept on beds of straw palliasses (thin pads) laid on boards. In the day had no chairs but sat on the floor. They had two meals, one at 11am and one at 6pm. They ate no meat and grew their own vegetables. They exercised in the garden and needed also space in the convent for this.” (sic)
As we know, Sister Margaret continued at her stained-glass commissions even after she joined the convent (this was a way to bring much-needed funds into the community). It’s extraordinary to think she could combine the physically demanding work of glass design with just six hours sleep, much intense prayer and just two meals.
No one can know if she pushed herself too hard, but she was in failing health by her mid-fifties, effectively putting a brake on her career.
During the war, the nuns had to move to a new convent at Quidenham, and it was here a decade later that Margaret died, from the complications of pneumonia, in 1953. Although it is not permitted to outsiders to enter the convent-enclosure to visit the grave, it has been photographed.
It is a simple cross with a dedication on its base. The lettering of the dedication has become badly eroded but it is just still legible; the inscription on it is in carved Roman majuscule script and reads (in Latin):
SOROR MARGARITA A MATRE DEI NATA DIE 20 JUNII 1882 MONA
CHA PROFESSA DIE 1 JULII 1925 OBIIT DIE 6 DECEMBRIS 1953
Sister Margaret of The Mother Of God, born 20 June 1882, professed as a nun (monacha) on 1st July 1925, died 6th December 1953
The Latin on the cross-head reads Pax Christi – the peace of Christ.
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