It was 20 km from Castres to the Abbaye Saint-Scholastique at Dourgne where I spent the night. 60 nuns live here according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. Hospitality is a monastic tradition, and monasteries and convents along the Way welcome travellers and pilgrims and those seeking a space for silence, prayer and meditation. Although the Benedictine Order is very old (6th century), this convent is relatively new and dates from the 1890s.
The nuns, dressed in smart grey and white habits, come together 7 times a day for the liturgical offices: Matins at 5 am (followed by breakfast taken in silence), Lauds at 7 am, Terce at 9.30 am, Sext at noon, None at 2 pm, Vespers at 6 pm, and Compline at 8 pm after the evening meal. Between these offices are periods laid aside for work, prayer and Bible study (the key precept in the Rule of Saint Benedict is laborare est orare - to work is to pray).
I attended Vespers. The chants and repsonses echoed round the candle-lit chapel. I was moved by it but would find it difficult to explain exactly how or why. Complex emotions and distant memories rushed through my head - in the end resolving into a kind of inner peace. Afterwards I dined with a rabble of priests who were attending a seminary at the abbey (some of them were married and had brought their wives - I thought Catholic priests weren't allowed to marry?) I noticed one of the older priests was very partial to the wine on our table, and when it had been drunk he asked the next table for some of theirs..!
After dinner I went to Compline, the final office of the day, which was short but beautiful. The sisters entered the chapel two by two, and left two by two following the Benediction. The Mother Superior then turned to the side-chapel, where I and a small number of other vistors and pilgrims were standing, and blessed us also, while sprinkling some holy water. I lit candles in memory of my mother and sister. Then left for my room where I slept long and deep.