A life of song and frogs

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Benedictine monastery near Bartica, Guyana

Sadly, I am told that the Benedictine monastery near Bartica (Guyana) has now closed. A few years ago, it was a memorable stay.

Before long, I was part of the clockwork of monastery life. There were only two brothers, Pascal and Matthias, and an elderly abbot called Hildebrand (see photo).

But they lived their life to a split-second horarium: matins, mass, prayers (three times during the day), and then vespers, supper and compline. At exactly the moment they promised, their euphonious chanting would lift up out of the trees, and carry out across the river. Loosing off canticles into this vast expanse of light and silvery water must have felt like addressing heaven itself. ‘The only way I can live with celibacy,’ Brother Pascal once told me, ‘is by having all this beauty.’

I still have a recording I made of the chanting monks. It was a gorgeous, sepulchral sound. By day, it seemed to blend in with the reedy hum of crickets, and, by night, with the chorus of frogs. After a while, I almost forgot it was the music of the thirteenth century, filtered through the tropics.

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