Only broadband will do for monks with an internet habit

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The Independent Online

Choose to be a monk and you accept that your life will be a spartan existence dominated by prayer, chastity and reflective solitude, far from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

But such a traditional perception of monastic life is being challenged by a community of Catholic monks who live in a century-old abbey on Caldey Island, off Pembrokeshire in south-west Wales. Sick of being hindered by the limitations of their ancient dial-up internet connection, the tech-savvy brothers have installed a rapid wireless broadband receiver inside the abbey tower.

The tonsured community on Caldey Island numbers only 15, and although the monks allow tourists to explore the island during the summer months, charging them a fee for the ferry, money can be hard to come by.

To finance the running costs of the monastery, the brothers produce their own range of products, including bars of chocolate, perfumes, books and DVDs about the life of a monk, sold through their website. The site was created six years ago after the monks invested in a dial-up internet connection, and the business has become a storming success. But after suffering problems with their ageing connection, and unable to connect to the faster wireless networks enjoyed by those living across the water in Tenby, the nearest coastal town, the monks decided enough was enough.

"Patience is one of the characteristics of monastic life, but even the patience of the brothers was being tested by our slow dial-up internet service," said Father Daniel, the Abbot of Caldey Abbey. "Broadband access has made a huge difference to our internet usage. We knew we needed a faster connection, but we had almost given up trying to find a workable solution which would give us an internet connection at speeds enjoyed by others on the mainland. We have many plans to develop our commercial activities now we have a modern, high-speed communications link."

Currently, five bars of home-made Abbot's Kitchen Chocolate are available from the Caldey Island website for £7.25, while two boxes of shortbread are priced at £7.95. The Lavender Collection, a selection of naturally produced bath essences and hand lotions, costs £18.95.

The monks initially investigated the use of satellite technology to solve their computing problems, but thought a satellite dish might have damaged the abbey's status as a listed building. The brothers turned to a Pembrokeshire-based wireless telecommunications specialist, who installed a powerful but discreet receiver inside the abbey tower, allowing a signal to be distributed to surrounding buildings.

"BT's conventional broadband service in effect stops at Tenby harbour and is unable to cross the short stretch of water to Caldey," said Jonathan England, of TFL Group, the company that installed the receiver. "In these situations, wireless broadband can be delivered simply, quickly, cost-effectively and with minimal disruption."