Monk quits after 'fun' making CD

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A CARTHUSIAN monk who broke his vow of silence to make a one-off CD has left his monastery after rediscovering his love of music.

Dom Ignace, 33, the Cantor at St Hugh's Charterhouse, Parkminster, in West Sussex, decided to produce a recording of his fellow brothers singing plain chant. The idea was to give the wider world a glimpse of the monks' rarefied existence. In reality, the reverse occurred.

Ignace described the recording process - three days of ruptured routine - as "a holiday within the walls". The experience gave him a taste of the life he might have led had he not signed up to the most inaccessible of all Roman Catholic orders.

Prior to entering Parkminster five years ago, at the age of 28, Ignace was a professional organist and choirmaster in his home town of Antwerp, Belgium. He already had several CDs to his name, recorded by his friend Werner Pensaert, the sole outsider invited in to the cloister to help with the Parkminster CD. Usually, the monks only have contact with the outside world once a year, when their families visit, but making the CD meant that Ignace had to make the occasional telephone call to discuss the editing. "It was great fun, but that's nothing to do with what our life is about. I haven't come here to make CDs. I've come here to search for God and pray for the world," said Ignace in October. "I would have loved to have a children's choir, which is a place of healing, but I know being here is 100 times more useful. There's no proof, but it's faith and you act on it."

Only after seven years is a Carthusian monk allowed to take his perpetual vows but, after five years, he can "join the big boys", as Ignace put it. Ignace was one month away from making this transition when, in November, he left the monastery and returned to Belgium, something he had said he would never do.

In turning his back on the austere way of life, Ignace is not alone. Half the Carthusian monks do not stay the course, and some stay considerably less time than five years.

The CD, entitled In the Silence of the Word, is designed as an aid to a "spiritual mini-retreat" for people at the end of a busy day. The hymns, psalms, responses and prayers are merged into an hour-long meditation, which is stocked by mainstream record shops.

Review, page 19