Holy order hitches up its habits to go surfing

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The Independent Online
And it came to pass that an order of holy brothers, who were seeking new ways of keeping a roof over their heads in the commercial cut and thrust of the 20th century, looked upon the Internet with interest - and lo, it was good.

So the Benedictine monks launched a company called Monksoft and started advertising in cyberspace for holiday breaks at their 140-year-old abbey.

The 45-strong community at Belmont Abbey, near Hereford, found that they needed a new source of income when their independent boys' school closed down due to a shortage of pupils.

Their prayers were answered when one of their abbot's friends, Fr Mark, a computer buff who writes his own programs, offered use of his earthly talents. For behold, is it not written: "By their deeds shall ye know them"?

Now paying guests from as far afield as the United States know about the brothers from their advertisement in cyberspace and travel to the abbey to enjoy a peaceful holiday in its tranquil gardens and surrounding countryside.

Fr Nicholas, the managing director of Monksoft, said yesterday: "We have extended Saint Benedict's idea of hospitality somewhat beyond what he originally envisaged, but he was all for welcoming people to our doors.

"We are only doing in a computerised way what monasteries have always done. Throughout history they have welcomed guests from all walks of life from kings and queens to pilgrims and the poor.

"People on holiday are not usually interested in the monastic side, but we also run retreats for guests who want to take part in our life and prayer or share in some peace and quiet."

The abbey also offers bed-and-breakfast to travelling business people and is a member of the Heart of England Tourist Board and the South Herefordshire Tourism Association Bed Bureau. It rents out its refurbished school dining room for wedding receptions and other parties, provides conference facilities and encourages visits by schools.

Monksoft also operates a sideline printing parish and school magazines, wedding booklets and its own Christmas cards and stationery based on desktop- publishing packages written by its surfing abbot.

"When our school closed, we had to do something else to raise money," Fr Nicholas said.

"Fr Mark has also written some computer programs to help us run the company and we chose the name Monksoft because it seems so appropriate."

Monastic trade

The Trappist religious order has brewed and sold beer for centuries, particularly in Belgium and the Netherlands. Others, such as the Cistercians and the Benedictines, have allowed their name to be used on beer and wine.

Monks at the Benedictine Buckfast Abbey, Devon - famed for its honey and tonic wine - have formed a "common market" with a shop selling products made by orders across Europe.

The Cistercian brothers on Caldy Island, Dyfed, sell perfumes, chocolates and dairy products from a pedigree herd of 70 Jersey cows.

Religious music in general and Gregorian chants in particular have been real money-spinners for several religious orders.