On a sunny Sunday afternoon people are enjoying tea and cakes on the lawn of the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre, walking through the grounds or having a quiet moment in the World Peace Temple and its walled precinct. The scene might not have been so different in essence hundreds of years ago, when this was Conishead Priory, home to a group of Augustinian canons. Where now Buddhist monks and nuns in their maroon and saffron robes work in the café and grounds and lead tours and meditations, then the canons in black and white would probably have been equally busy, praying in the priory church, feeding the poor and looking after their farming, fishing and iron business interests. After centuries of change, Conishead Priory is once more an active spiritual centre, welcoming visitors and drawing Buddhists from all over the world to Ulverston.
A religious house was first founded here in the 12th century, and excavations in the 1920s revealed medieval artefacts and the remains of the priory church, as well as a burial site. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the priory passed into private hands, and in the first half of the 19th century the existing manor house was completely rebuilt by owner Thomas Braddyll into the impressive structure we see today. Unfortunately all this work and the failure of his investments in the Durham coalfields bankrupted Braddyll, and over the following years the house became a Hydro, a convalescent home for Durham miners and a war time hospital. A new owner in the 1970s let the house fall into complete disrepair, and it would have been lost if a group of dedicated Buddhists had not bought it in 1976 and begun a long process of restoration.
This summer Conishead Priory will be closed between 10th July and 12th August for the Buddhist festival, but otherwise it offers a full programme of meditations, tours and courses. Guided tours of the house are available at 2.30 pm on weekends and Bank Holidays from March to October (£3.60, children free). There are free short guided meditations at 12.30 and 2.00 pm every day, and every Sunday, 10.30 – 11.45, you can join in Prayers for World Peace (free). Other meditation classes are available for a small fee, and you can pick up leaflets for these, and for the short walks around the ground, in the foyer. From dog walkers to spiritual seekers everyone is welcome, so look out for their leaflets or go to www.manjushri.org for full details of all this lovely place offers.