Alton Abbey Incense – a review

Alton Abbey Incense is available online HERE.

We are having an extension built at St James House, the diocesan office in Liverpool, mainly to accommodate the needs of the (excellent) St Mellitus Training College. My office is right at the point where the new building meets the old so has been out of use for a while. Taking advantage of this I have been holding one-to-one meetings at Leaf, my favourite place for tea on Bold Street in Liverpool. Bold Street has just a residue of Bohemian spirit, as the Albert Road in Southsea did when I lived there, and Camden Market in London. Bold Street also has St. Paul’s Multimedia, where the sisters always provide a warm welcome, and News From Nowhere, one of the last remaining radical bookshops. It reminds me of October Books in Southampton in the 1980s (which is also still going, although relocated) and where I bought most of my radical political reading as an undergraduate.

Meeting the Assistant Diocesan Secretary in Leaf on one occasion, a family beckoned me over. Their daughter, who was with them, was a former pupil of Trinity and now at her final year at Liverpool University. I’ll always remember, she said, the smell of incense at school, and, reaching into a carrier bag showed me the Nag Champa incense that she had just bought on Bold Street – and that was exactly the incense we did use at Trinity.

The sense of smell is one of our most primitive and deep rooted experiences, smells remind us of times in our life with great force. The smell of a coal fire transports me immediately to my gran’s house in Chesterfield. Creating a ‘bubble’, a different world when pupils at school crossed the threshold, incense was a powerful tool. I was fascinated that she was still buying it.

There is a great article on the use and value of incense HERE, showing how it reduces anxiety and depression. For its mental health value I would recommend using incense in every school.

When I am in a suitable place I use incense every day when I pray and meditate. Japanese incense sticks with their delicate fragrances, and not producing too much smoke or soot, are my choice when I am away from home. In the domestic Oratory I use church incenses burnt on charcoal in a small thurible.

I like to have a ‘menu’ of incense so that the different aromas are associated with the liturgical year.

For many years my menu has consisted of:

Ordinary Time – Blachernae Rose (St Edward Brotherhood)

Advent and Lent – Evesham (Mucknell Abbey)

Christmas and Easter – Madonna (Alton Abbey)

Feasts and Solemnities – Basilica (Prinknash Abbey)

Feast of Our Lady – Rosa Mystica (Alton Abbey)

Some months ago Fr Andrew, the Prior at Alton Abbey, sent me samples of the new range of incenses that they are making there. They are lovely and I would really recommend them. The launching of online purchasing HERE. Has reminded me to review them!

So this is my new ‘menu’:

Ordinary Time – Special

You will notice that I have a very limited vocabulary for describing aromas – for which apologies. Despite its name this one, for me, has a broad sort of smell that gives it an everyday quality, it doesn’t remind me of too much.

Advent and Lent – St Martin de Porres

This has a nice astringent, cleansing sort of smell about it. A bit like a decent toilet cleaner (I like that). (Evesham from Mucknell Abbey has a similar quality in my view).

Christmas and Easter – Madonna

Very floral, but with a sort of depth to it and a richness, it lingers very well. It smells as I imagine the spices at the tomb (foreshadowed by the frankincense brought by the magi), so it’s a good one for both Christmas (inc Epiphany etc) and Easter.

Feasts and Solemnities – Festival

More floral than Special, but not so talcum like as Madonna or Rosa Mystica, this definitely suggests a greater degree of celebration without going over the top. I might prefer a separation between aromas for Feasts and Solemnities, so perhaps Alton will introduce something else? Or perhaps I could be slightly treacherous and suggest Basilica from Prinknash, this was used in my childhood churches and immediately takes me back to being a boat boy even before I started school.

Feasts of Our Lady – Rosa Mystica

This definitely (for me) has the smell of talcum powder – as my gran used to have. Very distinct, I wouldn’t want to use it every day or even for a season, but because it is so distinct it stands out even in a season when other highly perfumed incense is used.

Our religious communities are very much under threat because of the lack of vocations, but they also need our financial support . Do give your business to Alton by supporting their online purchasing HERE, and of course, pray for vocations to the religious life every day.

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