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Monks break their 900-year silence - on CD

THE MONKS at Parkminster, the only working Carthusian monastery in England, have broken their 900-year silence. Today they launch a CD of their prayer and plainchant.

The Carthusians are the most inaccessible of the Roman Catholic religious orders and live a completely enclosed existence. They are mostly silent and spend their days alone in their cells, only gathering to celebrate Mass and Vespers each day, and chant the Night Office by candlelight from midnight to 3am.

Their CD, In the Silence of the Word, is faithful to the Night Office, with its simple and austere plainchant, readings and responses, but just 75 minutes long. It was recorded in their chapel by a single technician over three days.

Father Cyril Pierce, Prior of St Hugh's Charterhouse, at Parkminster in West Sussex, said he had decided to share something of the monastery's otherwise hidden life. "In the Middle Ages everyone knew what monastic life was about, but nowadays many people, even priests, don't have the foggiest idea."

Dom Ignace, the monastery's Cantor, believes the recording will cater for people who want a "spiritual mini-retreat" at the end of a busy day. "People love to have something rumbling in the background which is strangely peaceful and almost challenging in its simplicity," he said.

Ignace, from Belgium, spoke quickly and enthusiastically, gesticulating expansively and laughing a lot. His last conversation with a lay person was four months ago when he had a brief chat on the telephone about the editing of the CD.

His next conversation will be in July, when his parents make their annual two-day visit. They will stay in the guesthouse outside the monastery.

Making the CD was, "a holiday within the walls," said Ignace. "Most of the monks enjoyed making the CD as a one-off. We're not used to being together for three days in a row. I've made a solemn promise that I will not stir up anything of that kind for the next 15 years."