The habits of a lifetime: When you've already committed to the ascetic life of a monk, is there anything left to give up for Lent?

Emily Jupp entered the cloistered world of Ampleforth Abbey to find out

By giving things up, you lighten your load." Father Luke Beckett's sermon echoes through the crypt at Ampleforth Abbey. It's Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and I'm going to take communion for the first time.

The crypt is warm and comforting, filled with polite schoolboys from the adjoining Catholic school. The light is low and the smell is homely; melted wax and dust. But my heart is racing, I don't know the protocol. Do I drink first or eat? Is it like a wine-tasting? Too late to think; I've reached the pulpit, hovering just one stride away from Father Luke, who smiles.

"Do you wish to take communion?" He asks. I give him a deer-in-headlights stare, so he repeats himself, before I finally reply, "Er... Yes?"

The Christian faith is still the largest in the UK, with the 2011 Census showing that 59 per cent (33.2 million) of the UK population counted themselves as Christian. But regardless of our religion, Christian festivals are embedded in British culture. Putting up Christmas trees, sharing Easter eggs, and giving things up at Lent are habits most of us take part in without analysing them.

The monks at Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire put a bit more thought into Lent, which is all about preparing for Easter. Monks will do more praying and reading during this time. Their diet is restricted, too. "Lunch was soup with a roll, dinner will be one course, no pudding," says Father Terence Richardson, slightly mournfully.

The monks make a list of all their possessions at Lent and deliver it to the Abbot, making notes on what they can afford to give away. They also have to submit a request to the Abbot when they need new things. "Anything we own is shared," says Father Terence. "That's not to say that we interchange underpants, but the principle is there."

Presumably to save on the washing bill, Father Terence also informs me he doesn't wear trousers under his habit in the warmer months. "It does feel different if I'm away from here and not wearing the habit," he muses. "It's the way everything hangs."

 

Father Luke has taken note of the World Health Organisation's recent advice to reduce our sugar intake. He's giving it up for Lent. "It's not so much a sugar binge at Easter that I'm preparing for, I'm a bit more grown up than that... it's about travelling a little more lightly through Lent and that brings us freedom."

Down on the orchard, sugar is essential for one of Ampleforth's most important income streams: cider. Cameron Smith joined four years ago as the orchard manager. He takes ripe offerings from trees, blending 40 different varieties of apple to get the flavour just right. Even though he's a Humanist, he says he's learnt a lot from working with the monks. "It's made me convinced that the values the monks live by are good values." The Benedictine values are attentiveness, hospitality, stewardship, respect, integrity and equilibrium.

As I head to the exit, a monk rides past on a scooter. It's Father Henry Wansbrough who joined Ampleforth when he was 19. He's now 80. Joining at a young age is, "extremely dangerous" he says; now young men are encouraged to see the world first before choosing to dedicate their life to God. "I've never regretted it," he smiles. "There are always new things to discover." It may not be for everyone, but the sprightly octogenarian makes a good poster boy for the life he's chosen. Maybe we could all afford to think a bit more deeply about Lent.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn