The monks of Solesmes, under their abbot, Dom Paul Delatte, came to Appuldurcome House, near Ventnor in 1901. They were voluntary exiles from the unjust laws against religious life in France. The year before their lease on Appuldurcome was due to run out, 1907, the monks bought Quarr Abbey House, next door to the ruins of the ancient Quarr Abbey.
Queen Victoria had been a frequent visitor to Quarr Abbey House, and her daughter, Princess Beatrice, had spent her honeymoon there following her marriage to Prince Henry of Battenburg. One of the monks of Solesmes, Dom Paul Bellot, who was an architect, was commissioned to design a monastery and church.
A small advance party of monks came to Quarr Abbey House to make preparations. Soon, the first part of the monastery, including the refectory, was built and the rest of the community of Solesmes came across from Appuldurcome, the younger ones on foot. The wooden church from Appuldurcombe was reassembled at Quarr for temporary use.
In April 1911, local builders began the construction of the abbey church. It was completed the next year, and consecrated on October 12th, 1912. The Guest House was finished in 1914, and the first guest was the French philosopher, Jacques Maritain.
During the First World War, the Guest House was used for the convalescence of wounded soldiers. Princess Beatrice came to visit them as Governor of the Isle of Wight. Robert Graves stayed there for a short time and recalls the fact in “Goodbye to All That.”
Abbot Paul Delatte retired in 1921, after ruling his community for over thirty years. Dom Germain Cozien was elected in his place and with the situation in France improved, decided to take his community back there. Their return was completed by September 1922, but the community always looked back on their time in the Isle of Wight as one during which they came close to God through a relative absence of distractions.
However, not all of the monks went back to France: twenty-five, with Dom Emile Bouvet as superior, remained to carry on monastic life at Quarr, dependent on Solesmes. Lay brothers were a great support. Gradually Englishmen came to be monks: the first such profession was in 1930, and the first ordination in 1936.
Dom Emile Bouvet died in 1937, and Dom Gabriel Tissot became abbot in that year. He shepherded the community through the Second World War, when the Island’s emergency food supply was stored in its cellar, and saw it gradually becoming more English.
Following his retirement in 1964, the first English abbot of Quarr was elected: Dom Aelred Sillem. He guided the community through the changes of the Second Vatican Council. In his time, the position of high altar was changed and a pyx hung over it as a tabernacle. He was at the same time devoted to the Solesmes tradition, and able to see the community through the process of becoming more English.
Following his death, Dom Leo Avery was elected abbot. With an engineering background, he was able to take charge of the measures to stabilise the church. After only four years, to the great distress of the community, Abbot Leo died of a brain tumour.
In 1996 Dom Cuthbert Johnson was elected abbot. Under his leadership, monastic craft was developed, and the bindery was opened. He did much to open up the monastery to visitors, establishing the tea shop and gardens. He also reordered the abbey church, and initiated and oversaw the development of the new guest wing. He retired in 2008, and Dom Finbar Kealy was appointed Prior Administrator. In May 2013 Dom Finbar retired and Dom Xavier Perrin succeeded him as Prior Administrator. Dom Xavier was elected abbot of Quarr in May 2017 and blessed on August 6 2017.
Although much has happened since the first monks of the community came to the Isle of Wight, the purpose of the community is still the same: to seek and praise God.