Hard-up monks get in party habit

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The Independent Online

It is the newest novelty venue on the party circuit. The monks of Belmont Abbey, near Hereford, are throwing open their doors for wedding receptions, dinner-dances and discos.

The closure last year of the abbey's private school for boys left the 25 resident monks at Belmont with a giant unused refectory next door. With bills for running the abbey rising, the decision to turn it into a banqueting hall was an act of economic necessity.

"Benedictines have always been great ones for hospitality and inviting guests to stay throughout the centuries,'' Father Nicholas Wetz said. "We've had a guest house for some time. When we closed our school, we were left with a redundant refectory and this was a way of paying the bills. We had to face the commercial facts of life."

An advertising campaign describes the hall as a "new place for a party". The monks are scrutinising all applications carefully. "I don't think any rave-ups will be the order of the day. We don't want to jeopardise the tranquil nature of our life."

So far they have had a 25th wedding anniversary and a couple of wedding receptions, ideal with the abbey church and beautiful grounds near by.

The hospitality venture is in the hands of former hotelier Paul Rynehart and his team. But the monks will not actually be partying themselves. "Most of our monks will be tucked up in bed. We're employing a professional staff," Father Nicholas said. "You won't find monks actually playing the records on the turntable."