Sounds of silence in Benedictine monastery

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The chance to sidestep the distractions of a frenetic world is rare. It's reassuring, therefore, to discover there are places where the outside world need not intrude. A retreat can offer spiritual sanctuary, perhaps, but - above all - peace, quiet and even silence, reports Simon Horsford in the UK Telegraph, in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald..

Quarr Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the Isle of Wight, is one such place. I spend five days at the abbey to see how easy it is to shut out normal life, to be away from family and friends and, for a short time at least, to avoid the stresses and demands of modern living.

As I make my way to the monastery, I wonder what it will be like to spend a week without family, friends, work, television, the internet, the pub and shops and to be alone with my thoughts.

Initially, it feels just like going back to school. The neo-Gothic Quarr Abbey - pronounced ''Corr'' - was completed in 1912 and is an imposing, redbrick edifice designed by a monk, Dom Paul Bellot.

Its formality and rigid lines - and the cold corridors - had more than a whiff of the scholastic but Father Nicholas, who oversees the guesthouse where visitors live during their stay, soon dispels any such associations.

He sums up the monastery's purpose as a place of contemplative prayer and reflection by recalling the words of the American Trappist monk, Thomas Keating, who said it should ''provide a calm space in a world of clutter and noise''.

The Benedictines have long welcomed guests and the tradition of monastic hospitality goes back to the desert monks of 3rd-century Egypt; St Benedict himself is regarded as the father of Western monasticism.

Quarr is open only to men. Guests are left to their own devices and can wander the 73 hectares of beautifully kept grounds. Alternatively, you can explore farther afield - the town of Ryde is nearby; there's no requirement that you stay on abbey premises, although not doing so can miss the point of the retreat.

FULL STORY Sounds of silence (SMH) 

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