The Final Weekend: Days Fifteen-Seventeen
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
EWTN has just begun filming a new series in Scotland. In the next four to six weeks, wed like to take you along with us as our producer, Deb Piroch, sends us blogs and e-blasts from Scotland about the adventures and mis-adventures of filming a series overseas. We thank you for coming along on this tour, or, as they say in Gaelic, Cad mle filte, one hundred thousand welcomes!

Destination: Elgin, Scotland

Our estimated journey of four hours takes much longer. By the time we reach Elgin, 15 miles from the coast, it's close to midnight. Despite two GPS navigators, we cannot find Pluscarden Abbey. Pitch black and raining for two solid weeks, traditional routes are closed, blocked by flooding. In the end, the crew locates a local, who happily knows the back roads. We head for Pluscarden again, not knowing if our late arrival will preclude entry. In the end, kindly residents answer our knocking at the retreat houses; they had not really expected us to arrive punctually.

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Day Fifteen-Seventeen

Pluscarden Abbey is Benedictine, and the oldest male monastery in Britain still being used for its original purpose. Founded in the 1200s, it was abandoned and fell into ruin following the Reformation, when the Mass was forbidden. Invited back hundreds of years later, the monks returned in the 1940s and began an ongoing restoration. Note the scale of the Abbey (Crew Chief Paul MacAree films at the lower left), and that most of the nave is missing because stones were harvested and used for other buildings in the area.

Paul MacAree, Crew Chief, filming (lower left)

Close to the transept, the right side of the remaining nave

Windows made by the monks when they returned to Pluscarden.

These monks witness to the beauty and discipline of the monastic life. Rising early, a monk knocks on the doors of his brothers, calling to each in Latin. The Divine office also sung in Latin begins with Lauds/Matins at 4:45 a.m. Every two to three hours throughout the day, the brothers stop their work to chant these prayers, which date back to the earliest life of the Church. Fifteen to 20,000 visitors come every year to pray here; the majority, we are told, are not Catholic. One person said: "Here, I learned to pray." Countless come on retreats, Catholics, Quakers, Anglicans. Their interior life speaks volumes.

Daylight hours are governed by routine, discipline, obedience, and prayer. Everything for God. The bell calls the monks to chapel, and tells them when to cease work. The monks ask us to speak to them about our work. They are only permitted to watch films three times a year, and have one half hour of recreation a day. Ora et labora. Pray and work.

Ringing the bells, calling for prayer.

Our crew were allowed to transcend the many steps up to where the bells are located. Note the bell rope. Over and over again, I was struck by the sheer luminosity of the light.

These are the "night stairs," used only when the monks proceed in for evening prayers, called Vespers. During their day, the monks avoid all unnecessary speech, the better to foster the spiritual life.

The monks grow nearly all of their own food, including over one hundred varieties of apple alone. The head gardener, Br. Cyprian, will likely be head gardener at Pluscarden his entire life. When he dies, another monk will take over the duties. Here Baxter, the Abbey cat, surveys the apple trees. Below one of the monks enthusiastically shows us their bounty and offers us a "Pre-Reformation" variety to taste! The apple cracks as it ripens - so it cannot be found in the supermarkets.

Ashford Clovis, Paul MacAree, orchard at Pluscarden

As a postnote: the day we arrived, a funeral mass was being celebrated for the eldest monk in the community, who had passed away a few days prior. Here he's interred, within sight of the Abbey and brother monks some buried nearby 800 years ago. In his honor, each time the bells ring, they only peal once. Abbot comes from "Abba", meaning "Father," indicative of how the monks consider each other family. Requiescat in pace.

Ashford Clovis (R), filming at mass.

Joe Clovis, filming the monks as they recede into seclusion after prayer. Their movement leaves ghostly traces below the night stairs. We were told a story about a priest who visited the monks many years ago, in the 1940s, to welcome the first ones returning after 800 years. When he arrived, he heard the monks singing but could not locate them. He returned to the entrance, only to find the security guard ... who told the priest he was too early. The new monks were not to arrive until the next day. Who had been singing? The priest felt the monks of yore were welcoming their brothers back to Pluscarden Abbey!

Reviewing footage, L to R: Joe Clovis, Paul MacAree and a pilgrim from Germany.

Deb Piroch and Pluscarden monk, Fr. Martin. The first time he came knocking on the door at Pluscarden, wanting to be a monk, he was not yet Catholic, which many there still find amusing. A convert, and now a priest, he succeeded on his third attempt. His story is one which will be told in the upcoming EWTN's series, "Catholic Lives."

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