Knights Templar
The following articles are reprinted here with the kind permission of
Dame Stella Bernardi D.G.O.T..
Chancellor of the Grand Priory of England and Wales

TEMPLE - Vol. 1. No. 1. 1996

Grand Prior Leslie thanked members for electing him. He announced his desire to assist the Cistercian Monks of Caldey Island who are in great financial difficulties and asked those present to support this worthy cause. A basket was passed round and 116 was collected. G.P. Leslie then presented each of the newly invested Knights with a Brevet in the Grade of Chevalier and his newly appointed Officers who were present with their Patents of Office and where appropriate a Brevet to signify Promotion to the Grade of Commander or Grand Officer. A very splendid occasion came to an end soon after 11 p.m.

Caldey Island - "Island of Saints"

By Dame Stella Barratt-Pugh D.C.T.
Preceptor, Grand Priory of England and Wales

After the response at the Templars' Summer Banquet to the plea for charity for the monks of Caldey Island I decided to visit there and see conditions for myself.

A narrow cobblestone jetty made from World War II concrete barges, fashioned for the Normandy landings is one's first contact with Caldey after a lively twenty minute boat trip from Tenby. Although only one mile wide and just over two miles long the island is very fertile and has boundless views over the ocean to the west and the outline of Tenby, a pristine, Victorian walled town, over a strip of water to the east.

The present band of monks are of the Cistercian Order (a link with the Templars, who, in 1128 at the Council of Troyes, adopted a form of Cistercian Rule) and first came to Caldey in 1929. They live by the work of their hands and are dedicated to a seven hour daily round of divine worship, plus prayer, study and manual labour. The manual labour is divided between their farm, their perfume factory and the kitchens where their own brands of handmade chocolates, yoghurt, clotted cream, biscuits and cakes are made.

The Order was, originally, a Benedictine one and though rituals and relics were handed on, sadly, the recipe for Benedictine liqueur was not. I feel that this is a great pity as in the austere lives of the monks the tasting of a liqueur to perfect its flavour would be far more fun than dabbing perfume and after shave on to a fellow monk and sniffing!

The Monastery is a wondrous sight on the nature dominated island. It is four stories high in parts, capped above this with pinnacles and re-roofed towers soaring to dominate its outline. The whole is built of limestone, quarried on the island, and was completed at the beginning of this century. The design was to the specification of the Abbot of those days. He had it copied by commissioned architects from an abbey that had impressed him in Switzerland. From that information it is obvious that there was no shortage in the treasury of the Order at that time.

Male visitors are allowed to join a tour, led by a lay brother, allowing them to see, cloisters, cells and refectory. I was excluded and informed that it was all to do with the monks' vows of celibacy. I got quite a glow from realizing that I was Still considered to be a threat and capable of raising the heartbeat of a monk !

Therefore I visited the three churches, which was allowed. First, the medieval Priory Church with a spire, remarkably, three feet out of perpendicular. The church is dedicated to St. Illtyd and was built on the site of the first primitive, monastic building erected in the sixth century. It fell into disrepair during the Dissolution of the Monasteries but was saved from decay by Revd. Done Bushell in 1897. The fact that it was lovingly restored by his hands is reflected in the warmth one feels on entering. Its rush matted choir stalls and candlelit interior sweep the visitor back in time. The floor is made of cobblestones from the beach, hand gathered and hand transported. They shine in the candlelight, polished by the soft soled, felted shoes of the monks filing over them to their devotions. This church contains a real treasure - the Ogham Stone. This stone, about five feet high dates from the sixth century and has two inscriptions on it, one in Latin and one in Ogham characters. It was dug up in an adjacent field, thought to have been a Celtic burial ground. For many years its historical importance was not recognized and it was used as a windowsill, later becoming a garden seat. Apparently the worthy who identified its antiquity was totally overcome.

My next stop was the Abbey Church, situated at the far end of the monastery and the venue where the monks assemble to take part in their seven services each day. The church has been restored since it was burned out in 1940 - no, not by the enemy incendiary action but the combination of a guttering candle, a careless monk and a jar of paint thinner. I imagine that there was a very uncomfortable interview with the Abbot afterwards and one shudders to imagine what penance ensued. The church still retains the Cistercian tradition of austerity - no decoration and plain glass windows. No doubt this was to aid total concentration on worship - and I can certainly understand their point of view. I have, on many occasions been fully absorbed in the beauty of design and subtlety of colour of a stained glass window in church, or let my mind appreciate the execution of an engraving of one of the Stations of the Cross, to the detriment of my worship. The monks' pews are no more than narrow shelves and they do not even have the indulgence of hassocks. However, the church seems to be a happy place, filled with the twittering of birds and the heady scent of wild freesias - both of which go a long way to mitigate the austerity. The dedication here is to St. Samson, the patron saint of Caldey, and his feast is celebrated each year by the monks. I located his statue and shrine in the corner of a carefully attended garden blowing with harebells and poppies. He was, contrary to my expectations, a slightly built man, and on further enquiry I found that he was reputed to be a totally peace loving man too.

Lastly, I arrived at the lovely Priory Church of St. David. The chancel arches are considered to be Norman and its greatest feature is a stained glass window in glowing colours, known as The Fish Window. This was designed and executed by Dom Bede Bailey OSB. The design features the ancient, Christian symbol - the fish. The origin of this is based on the fact that the five letters of the Greek word for "fish" consist of the initials of the words "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour".

This symbol is also used on the "stamps" of the island. The stamps were introduced by the monks in 1973 as a means of contributing to the cost of conveying visitors' mail to the mainland - the island maintaining its own post office and visitors finding its postmark a novelty. The stamps are marked "2 dabs" and cost 10p each. The unit of a "dab" was chosen by the monks to reflect the old idea of barter, the dab being a fish caught off Tenby which was, in former days, the staple diet of the islanders.

When the males returned from their Monastery tour I was able to glean some firsthand facts. Apparently the cells are both austere and dark. The cloisters contain some religious pictures, some of martyrdom, some of saints and others of a solemn aspect. The refectory is akin to a raftered, baronial hall. A pulpit is placed high on the west wall, and as meals are taken in silence, it seems likely that reading or chanting is provided from this. Each long, wooden table held only three large containers holding respectively salt, vinegar and mustard. Apparently transistor radios are permitted, to keep in touch with the outside world. A television set and a video recorder are treasured additions to monastic life. One lay brother stated that the Abbot tried to restrict recordings to a religious tone and had been a little dispirited, lately, to find them interspersed with the odd football game !

My husband seemed favourably disposed towards the serenity of the monastic life - but the enthusiasm waned when he found that the day began at 3.15 am and the monks were strictly vegetarian. He felt that he could stretch a point for the early rising but that the deprivation of his favourite pork chops was just too much for him ! Another point that I pondered upon: considering the strict vegetarian rule of the monks - why such huge pots of mustard and what on earth do they put it on ?

It is obvious that the monks and their lay comrades have done everything possible to secure an income from the tens of thousands of visitors who come to Caldey - "The Island of Saints". Although the monks are not apparent themselves they still seem to hold out a welcoming hand. In practical terms they provide a well stocked and shady Tea Garden, well maintained toilets, hand hewn seats in leafy corners of all the walks and pleasant and efficient staff at both post office and shops. Spiritually, despite their absence, one feels their influence and they seem to extend a calming aura upon the visitors ! There was absolutely no litter and voices were never raised. Respect was accorded - and gratitude also - for being allowed to share their island and glimpse their life.

A lovely notice caught my eye - it invited visitors to Mass twice a day, whatever their faith, and offered confession or a "listening". Balm this would be for a troubled mind.

So, how has this dedicated life and this determination to be self sufficient life started to be in peril ? What really has gone wrong ?

Firstly, the heavy hand of bureaucracy has stamped on monastic enterprise from all angles. Health rules and standards have necessitated revisions of kitchens and equipment. This has indeed been a costly business, but essential if the merchandise is still to be manufactured.

The formerly idyllic pastoral life of the monastery farm is now subject to many regulations. Gone are the days when cattle were transported across the strip of water to the mainland at Tenby - swimming - held by a rope to a small motor boat. Ferry transport and R.S.P.C.A. inspected pens on Tenby harbour have to be maintained - again these make a great hole in the monastery funds.

The Monastery buildings themselves are ageing, and repairs and restoration to safety standards require experts to be summoned and scaffolding to be paid for by the day.

The shops selling souvenirs and perfumery are in direct competition with the Tenby tradesmen for the visitors spending money. These visitors too are declining - preferring to catch a cut price package deal to certain sunshine and sedating sangria.

Furthermore, the "2 dab" stamps, once a source of steady income have declined in popularity as the public are aware that they are not a postal necessity - merely another form of souvenir, and buy one to take home rather than adorning each postcard with one separately.

The monks' living standard is basic and frugal to a point where no further economy can be accomplished. Their prayers for those without their monastic walls are boundless and their hope for charity fervent.

It is a heartening memory that the Templars' final action on an historic weekend in Tewkesbury was to contribute to their needs and keep that hope alive.

TEMPLE - Vol. 1. No. 2. 1996

Caldey Postscript

By Dame Stella Barratt-Pugh D.C.T.
Preceptor of the Grand Priory of England and Wales

Some of you may recall that after our last Summer Assembly at Tewkesbury I wrote about my visit to Caldey Island. In September I was touring Eastern Europe and was in Budapest with some fellow Welsh visitors, a mature, sensible, married couple and found they hailed from Saundersfoot, not too far from Caldey. I told them of my happy day on the island and my awareness of an almost mystical peace that seemed to pervade all the island and transcend the necessary commercial aspects there. They looked at each other for a while, then the wife nodded and her husband quietly told me this story.

An aged aunt of theirs, wheelchair bound had always expressed a desire to visit Caldey, cross it and see the sea on the further side in its infinity, where, in actuality, it stretches to the shores of Nova Scotia.

They chose a glorious, sunny day and embarked on the venture, finding many willing fellow travellers to manhandle the wheelchair aboard the cobble-boat which scurries back and forth between the mainland and the island. After a fortifying cup of coffee at the cafeteria amid the rhododendrons they set off for the far side of the island. They had not realized, however, that the final two hundred yards were along a stretch of rough ground between two fields with relentless upward slope that left normal, unburdened visitors breathless and with aching thigh muscles. Doggedly, not wanting to disappoint their aunt, they started out. After a minute the husband touched his wife's arm and pointed to the wheelchair. With merely his two forefingers on the handles it was proceeding forward up the definite incline - steadily over the stones, tussocks, ruts and ridges - and continued to do so until the summit.

I give you this account exactly as it was presented to me by practical, level headed, Christian people, and leave you to come to your own conclusions. All I have to add is that it fills my being with a heartening, golden glow and my thoughts with a prayer of devout thankfulness.

Back to Monastery

Webpage  1995-2017 Isle of Standauffish