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TV Review: Heaven Made

  • Amanda C Dickie

Benedictine Sisters, Kylemore

Benedictine Sisters, Kylemore

Heaven Made - Sunday 12th December BBC 1 ..

It's rare to see a religious programme of this calibre on BBC 1.

Narrated by Lesley Sharp, this documentary looks at three Benedictine houses and how applying their Ora et Labora ethic. they fund the Abbeys by selling artisan goods.

The programme starts with Galway's stunning Kylemore Abbey, a former Victorian castle and estate, now home to fourteen nuns. Their innovative Christmas hampers were to have a new addition, boxes of hand made chocolates.

Sr Genevieve who introduced chocolates to the monastery ten years ago is a master chocolatier. Smiling sweetly to camera she declared: "chocolate is a gift of God!" Truly chocolate heaven! Now semi - retired she supervises lay staff who are carrying on her skills of chocolate making.

The sight of the nuns, undoubtedly the stars of this documentary, sitting around a table sampling the new range was a delight. Sr. Karol announced the new gin flavour. The Abbess in full traditional habit, looked up, "I'll have that one - I'll have two ...", she declared . Although she was told she had to try two different flavours. A mouth watering choice of milk chocolates with mint from their garden, ginger and honey, raspberry and passion fruit and local gin and lime, basil and coconut ,as well as Baileys' was proffered. The mint variety won acclaim.

At Chilworth, in the heart of Surrey, two of the ten monks are struggling to assemble a large crib until a laywoman, a former nun, comes to their assistance. Brother Simon, a 57 year-old postulant, is seen making colourful rosaries from knotted cord as opposed to beads. Best seller is a patriotic red, white and blue rosary. He uses red and green to make additional festive ones. The monks also produce beeswax products for their shop.

Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight has just nine monks and they have a popular cafe and tearoom offering island produce. Cakes included a mouth watering slice of bursting with cream and jam which the camera lingered on.

Each Abbey nurtures important links with the local rural community who embrace their creative crafts and sustainable methods. On The Isle of Wight, tenant farmer, Matt Legg works alongside agile former farmer, 76 year-old Fr Gregory, and claims God and the monks as his landlords and supplies free range meat for the cafe. Fr. Gregory talks to the farm animals and says: "Being close to nature is being close to God."

Contemplative Gregorian chant is interspersed throughout the film as each abbey is visited and we learn about some of the nuns' and monks' vocations. Sr. Karol leads the nuns in rehearsing the sung Advent Liturgy and explains enthusiastically about preparation spiritually for Christmas. She laments the lack of stillness in the world today - that everything is rushed "and on the go". Silence is an essential part of monastic life. Sr Jeanne gave up being a chemist and mathematician to enter religious life .Making chocolate stars for Christmas she places an envelope in each containing Blessings.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn of a rise in vocations after this insightful programme.

Let's hope the latest wave of Covid doesn't delay too much the undoubted draw for visitors to savour their delicacies in harmonious, scenic surroundings cocooned by prayer and peace. A veritable balm in these Covid times, hopefully not just in virtual but actual reality. However they do all have a shop online if you can't visit.

An unmissable festive treat, the programme is shown again at 8.15 am on 23rd.December and is available on IPlayer.

Episode 2 is on Sunday 19th December at 11.35, 12.05 in Scotland, repeated on Christmas Eve at 8.20am. It focuses on welcoming guests for the Advent Retreat at Chilworth and the monastic craft of book binding at Quarr Abbey, while Fr. Gregory reveals the secrets of traditional Ale making. At Kylemore the sisters display their skills at soap making. I can't wait. Only two episodes in total - hopefully another series will follow.

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