Benedictine monks offer refuge to visitors
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(23 Dec 2009) STORYLINE:
Glenstal castle was built in the 1830s in County Limerick on the south-west coast of Ireland.
Designed in Normanesque style by the Barrington family, it became home to a community of Irish Benedictine monks in 1927.
The Benedictine Order dates from about the year 500, just after the break up of the Roman Empire when Europe was entering the so-called Dark Ages.
In 1957 Glenstal officially became an abbey and today about 50 monks live there.
Traditionally, monks withdraw from the outside world to pray and meditate.
The Benedictines, however, have a long tradition of welcoming in people in need of spiritual counsel.
Today hundreds of visitors from Ireland and around the world visit the monastery every year.
People come looking for the supernatural, says Glenstal Abbey guest master Father Christopher.
''''People come of every religion and none, and I think there is a general sense that there is a touching with something which - people mightn''t use the same language for it - but it amounts to the supernatural, sort of addressing the challenge that that poses in a very hum-drum world,'''' he says.
The Rule of Saint Benedict demands that the monks welcome all strangers.
''''Everybody who comes is possibly sent by God and so you don''t know who''s going to be next, or who''s going to be the actual incarnation of God, so everybody therefore is welcome - and must be welcome - because it''s possible that you''re turning away God if you turn away anybody, so that is I suppose, the basis for hospitality,'''' says the Abbott of Glenstal, Mark Patrick Hederman.
Guests are cared for by the guest master who acts as a kind of intermediary between the guests and the community.
After breakfast, guests can wander in the abbey''s 500 acre estate of streams, lakes and woodland paths.
Some areas called ''monastic enclosures'' are closed to the public.
A 12 bedroom guest house has been built for those wishing to stay overnight.
Bert Tosh from Belfast in Northern Ireland has been coming to Glenstal every year since his marriage broke up twelve years ago.
"I get a chance to read. I get a chance to talk to people, if I''m in the mood for talking, I get a chance to think and sometimes I get a chance to not think, just to be,'''' he says.
Housewife Pauline Lyon from County Kerry came to Glenstal to take a break from her busy routine.
"I was very nice when I heard they had a guest house here and to be able to avail of it and to see their lifestyle and I find it healing and quite moving and I''m actually very glad I came," she says.
Books, CDs and other religious materials produced by the monks in Glenstal are on sale in the abbey shop.
But the day at Glenstal is built around the religious services which take place in the abbey church 5 times a day.
The monks at Glenstal are famous for the quality of their Gregorian chanting, a deeply spiritual music with its roots in the medieval Christian church.
In the evening guests take their only meal with the whole community, although a distance between the monks and guests is maintained.
As dictated by Saint Benedict, the meal is conducted in complete silence apart from some passages read aloud from the historical annals of the order.
For those looking to really get away from it all over the New Year - this might just be the answer.
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