Will Burma’s Buddhist monks help bring an end to the military coup?

In what could transpire to be a significant development, Buddhist monks joined tens of thousands of anti-coup protesters in the Burmese capital of Rangoon on Wednesday. This is the sixth continuous day of mass demonstrations since the military seized control. In a country where over 80 per cent of the population are Buddhists – and devoutly so – men of the cloth are influential. In fact, saffron-robed monks taking to the streets in 2007 paved the way for an end to 49 years of military rule in Burma in 2011. Along with China, they are key to restoring democracy in the south-east Asian state. On 1 February Burmese generals again

Downside’s downfall: the dissolution of a monastery

The monks of Downside Abbey in Somerset elected a new abbot last Thursday, according to sixth-century rules laid down by St Benedict. The next day, they sent an email notification saying they had voted ‘to make a new start and to seek a new place to live’. It was a shock to those who know the place. The monks will leave behind a beautiful abbey church built in the Gothic Revival style — its 166ft tower visible for miles around — a monastery and cloisters, the largest monastic library in Britain and a grand-looking public school with more than 300 pupils. It’s as if a piece of English Catholicism, like

The art of the hermit

Late in the afternoon on Valentine’s Day, I walked through an almost empty Uffizi. Coronavirus was then a Wuhan phenomenon. Our temperatures had been taken at the airport, but there were no restrictions on travel and those wearing masks looked eccentric. I congratulated myself on finding Florence so quiet. Off-season, I thought smugly. That’s the way to do it. Heaven knows it’s empty now. The painting that caught my eye on that distant-seeming visit was a long, low cassone-shaped painting on the theme of the Thebaid attributed to Fra Angelico (c.1420). The Thebaid is a collection of texts telling of the saints who in the first centuries of Christianity retreated