The singing nuns who are bringing 13th-Century hymns to contemporary music charts

Most chart-topping singers these days are 20 and 30-somethings with a daring fashion sense and lavish lifestyles. But as luck would have it, the UK’s best-selling classical artist debut in recent years is Poor Clare Sisters of Arundel, a choir of nuns whose ages range  from 50 to 96. After making it to the fifth spot in the UK albums chart with their first album, Light for the World, the group is back with yet another collection of songs, titled My Peace I Give You.

The nuns first broke onto the scene in 2020, when they released Latin hymns and medieval texts with a 21st-century twist. While their choice of songs could be seen as unorthodox, the Poor Clare Sisters of Arundel put out their first record at the height of the pandemic, offering calm and solace with their music at a tumultuous time. “It’s been quite incredible the number of letters we’ve had from people all over the world saying they’re not religious but that our music has touched them,” Sister Gabriel, who joined the order of enclosed nuns in 1994 at age 23, told BBC Radio Sussex.

Despite their newfound fame, the nuns, who represent six different nationalities, live in a rural community in Sussex. The women live within an 800-year-old tradition, working and praying according to the form of life drawn up by St. Clare of Assisi in 1253.

While most acts feel anxious regarding their sophomore album, the Poor Clare Sisters of Arundel couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Recorded at the convent chapel in Arundel, West Sussex, and mixed at the famous Abbey Road Studios, My Peace I Give You aims to bring music from the 13th century back to the mainstream charts. It also offers “a message of peace for a fractured world and the importance of caring for the planet.”

The core of the album is “The Canticle of Creation,” written by St. Francis of Assisi in 1224 and divided across seven songs. This composition holds a special place in the nuns’ heart, since St. Francis of Assisi was a friend of their order founder. “They lived eight centuries ago,” Sister Gabriel told The Guardian. “But they knew many things we still struggle with today, including how important it is to understand our relationship with the environment.”

Since helping others is central to the work of the nuns, they donated the profits from the sales of their first album and will do the same with the second. To them, the real gain is having helped so many people with their music. “My longing is for our music to touch people’s hearts, and that’s been the response,” said Sister Graça. “A lot of people saying, ‘I don’t believe in God, but there is something about your music that takes me somewhere that I had never experienced before.’ That’s it.”

My Peace I Give You comes out on May 24, 2024.