Monks break a vow to survive

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Members of an ancient monastic order are breaking their strict rules of silence to launch a television advertising campaign and save their island home.

The 16 brothers of the Reformed Cistercian Order on Caldey Island off the west-Wales coast were badly hit by the Sea Empress oil disaster. Because they rely on tourism and sales of their farm produce, the future of their monastery was in jeopardy after 1,500 years.

The monks have enlisted a firm of accountants to draw up an aggressive marketing campaign to pull in visitors. Abbot Brother Robert, originally from London, said: "We have a strict rule of silence - but we also have to live in the modern world.

"We are forced to accept a certain level of worldliness if we wish to survive ... It seems that television and advertising are very much of today's world."

He said the brothers battled to clean up the beaches devastated by the Sea Empress oil: "It was a big problem, although we have managed to clean up the main beaches. There are still small pockets of oil that we cannot reach. It is that situation which made us realise that we had to market the island.

"We know that tourists are already staying away and we must try to persuade them to come back. Other tourist attractions are marketing themselves and we cannot get left behind."

The order liaised on the plan with accountant Peter Muxworthy who made the three-mile crossing from the mainland by boat. Mr Muxworthy said: "Like any of us, the monks need money to survive. They have existed for many, many years - but the Sea Empress disaster has altered their situation. We are worried that many visitors may stay away because of the dramatic news coverage."

The brothers - who come from Europe and America as well as Britain - need more than pounds 300,000 a year to keep the monastery and farm going. The monastery produces milk, butter, cream, yoghurt and ice-cream. The brothers also indulge more extravagant tastes, making chocolate and a range of perfumes.

Embracing the world of television advertising, however, has not come easily to the order: "We are not really publicity people," said Brother Robert. "We do not speak at all for the first four hours of the day. After that we communicate essential instructions such as: 'Pass four bags of flour'.

"But we do not encourage general conversation such as asking if the other monks think Manchester United will win the league again".

He confessed to finding marketing "a bit of a bore", but added: "We know we have to face the problems which the modern world has put in our path."

Mr Muxworthy, of Swansea-based accountants Bevan and Buckland, said he was delighted to have persuaded the monks to spend money on an advertising campaign. "They have relinquished worldliness in favour of peace and tranquillity - but there has to be an air of commercialism if they wish to continue," he said.

The short television advertisements are due to be shown on HTV in Wales to highlight the beauty of Caldey. The monks themselves baulk at the idea of becoming television stars. "We are leaving it up to the television people to sort it out," Brother Robert said. "We do not really wish to go on TV but I remember a documentary crew came to the island back in 1956. They said we didn't have to be in the film but they ended up filming us anyway.

"I dare say it may end up the same again. It would only take a couple of seconds for us to say: 'Come to Caldey Island'."