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Saturday, 14 April, 2001, 07:04 GMT 08:04 UK
Singing nuns pray for Number One
The choir has reached number two in the charts
By the BBC's Jenny McCudden

A group of nuns from Essex could be the new Easter number one in the UK Classical Charts.

The sisters from the Priory of the Resurrection at New Hall in Chelmsford have put together a compilation of harmonious chant and hymns on an album entitled "Eternal Light".

Released last month, the album shot straight up to number two and has already sold 45,000 copies.

The music is our prayer. After being approached by a record company, we agreed to share it

Sister Margaret Mary
Signed by leading label Deutsche Grammophon, the sisters are overwhelmed with the success so far.

It marks the first time that the sung worship of the group has been heard outside the convent chapel.

Sister Margaret Mary said the project was very exciting.

"We're just delighted that the music which is our prayer is being shared and enjoyed by other people."

The nuns belong to the order of the holy sepulchre. Since 1642, the order has sung prayers three times daily.

And still today, the music forms an integral part of daily life, drawn from the 900 year old traditions.

Every dawn, noon and dusk a mesmerizing chant can be heard coming from the bright, quaint chapel situated in the convent.

The magnificent building was once a Tudor palace with a strong historical background.

Ironically for a Catholic Community, Henry VIII first met Anne Boleyn in New Hall.

Friends in high places

Like others in the industry, the sisters had contacts in the right places.

Sister Teresa explained that her nephew is involved in the record industry and after numerous visits to the chapel during the years he finally persuaded the nuns to take their music to a wider audience.

Hymn sheet
The prayers have been sung for hundreds of years
"It's not what we anticipated when we recorded last October. But if we're at number two and perhaps going to number one, that must mean there are thousands of people who are actually listening to our music."

With record sales come the financial rewards and the sisters already have a number of projects which they hope will benefit from the proceeds.

No sports cars, cruise trips or houses in Notting Hill are on the agenda. The nuns live a busy life, teaching and helping others and look instead for the more simple pleasures.

Sister Margaret Mary has plans to contribute a small amount of money to the upkeep of a tranquil garden, surrounded by an old stone wall, with a large cherry tree dominating the centre.

We are a very open community and locals enjoy coming for service and are welcome to take part in our prayer

Sister Teresa
"This garden is a beautiful place to come and contemplate or simply pray, but access for the elderly and those with disabilities is a problem.

"We want ramps and new paths to make it more user friendly, so a little bit of the money shall go towards that."

But more importantly, the order intends to send money to their sister convents in Rwanda, the Congo and Brazil.

"Our sisters have suffered terribly in Rwanda and other places. We lost six of our order in the Rwandan massacre. The convent was destroyed. They lost everything."

Tour plans

Though only released a month ago, the album has already sold almost 50,000 copies and further success for the singing nuns can be expected.

Mark Wilkinson, of the record company believes the album will reach number one, knocking Russell Watson with his album The Voice off the hot spot.

He also has more long term plans for the nuns, and would even like to see them tour.

"It's going on release in Ireland next week, then, Italy, Canada, Australia and also in Germany over the coming months, so I hope with a bit of encouragement they may tour those places."

By Easter Sunday, the album could hit the number one spot, but even then the sisters at New Hall will be going about their daily business, meeting and greeting guests, organising spiritual breaks and of course offering up their prayer in the chapel.

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