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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Monks go online to boost perfume sales
Monastery on Caldey Island
The monastery has undergone extensive repairs
An order of Cistercian monks is turning to the internet to boost sales of perfume produced in their monastery on a remote west Wales island.

The Roman Catholic monks of Caldey Island, off the coast of Tenby, set up a website over a year ago but are taking that a step further and are in the process of online restructure and advancement.

Brother Robert
Webwise: Brother Robert

When complete, the brothers envisage a world wide audience browsing through their catalogue, filling their virtual shopping trolley with 'Caldey No 1' and paying by credit card.

"It's the introduction of 'interactivity', so I'm told," said Brother Robert.

"Our commercial manager assures us that there was enough interest in our online brochure to make this new venture a success.

"I didn't know much about the internet before but I've been catching up. And our Abbot Father Daniel is very enthusiastic and a great e-mailer. "

The monks live in accordance to the strict Rule of St. Benedict, attending seven services every day beginning in the early hours of the morning.

Their life might be austere but self-sufficiency comes at a price and although they specialise in perfume, shortbread and chocolate, the enterprising order have widened their repertoire to include books of island life, poetry collections and CDs of plainsong.

Perfume shop at the monastery
The perfume shop at the monastery

The setting up of a 'web shop' comes after a worrying slump in sales.

While the community - which observes a strict rule of silence for 12 hours every night - does not need huge profit, extensive repairs to the monastery has recently put additional strain on the purse strings.

"Business was very good in the last 70s and throughout the 80s," explained Brother Robert, who originates from New Cross in south east London.

"The number of tourists taking trips to the island were at a peak. But throughout the whole of the 90s it began to erode quite badly. It's a two mile boat trip from Tenby and I think there are now numerous additional attractions in the area diverting people's attention.

"So we decided to see if we could sell more products off the island.

"We've realised that competition in the perfume market is great. I was amazed. Once somebody took me to a big department store in London and the entire ground floor was given over to perfume sales. I couldn't believe it. There must have been 15 different varieties."

Caldey Island
Tourist visits to the island have dropped

A world away from the glamour of the big perfume houses, the monks produce scents ranging from lavender, fern and gorse to brocade, bouquet and - not to be confused with the Chanel variety - Caldey No 1.

All varieties are made from natural sources on the island which is widely recognised as an important archaeological site and inhabited by just 58 people, of which 17 are monks.

"None of them are called Temptation or anything suggestive such as that," said Father Robert.

"And while some may think them quite old fashioned, I've been told that the more organic scents are actually coming back into fashion."

And even if he is proven wrong, the monks will still be able to pin their hopes on the organic meat market.

Last year, the community set up a venture offering the public prime steaks and joints from their 30-strong herd of Hereford-cross-Friesian cattle which graze the herb rich 350-acre farm.

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