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
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
TEMPLE - Vol.
1. No. 2. 1996
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
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.