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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 July 2007, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Anxious wait at Shambo's temple
Nick Parry
BBC Wales News Online

Entrance to Skanda Vale
Visitors to Skanda Vale are asked to behave with respect
Four miles along a pot-holed single track, a welcome sign at Skanda Vale reminds people it is a place of worship, and not a tourist attraction.

But since Shambo the "sacred" bullock tested positive for bovine TB, the multi-faith community that lives on the remote 115-acre site in Carmarthenshire has grown used to visitors.

The row between the monks and the Welsh Assembly Government over whether the animal should be slaughtered is reaching its climax in the High Court in Cardiff.

From the entrance gate, Skanda Vale looks just like any one of the farms dotted along the wooded valley it occupies.

Only from the grounds can the exotic and colourful shrines and temples, at odds with the grey and dour churches and chapels found in the rest of the county, be seen.

They stand among agricultural barns and stone-wall buildings left from the days when the site was just a farm.

Monks and nuns, dressed as anyone would be for a day's work in the fields, pass by and while they always offer a nod or hello, appear slightly wary of visitors.

Temple at Skanda Vale
Only inside the gates can you see the temples and shrines

As the legal arguments reach a climax, those "visitors" mainly consisted of television crews and reporters waiting for reaction once Shambo's fate had been decided.

The temple where the bullock has been housed for the past two months in isolation from the other animals was the backdrop for countless broadcasts on Thursday.

Only his keeper, Brother Jamie, is allowed inside in an effort to keep him in quarantine.

Armed with bucket of dairy nuts he is able to encourage Shambo to the front of his pen anytime a camera crew requires him.

"The large part of my day is spent with him - giving him love and attention," said Brother Jamie.

"He certainly enjoys my company and the attention I am giving him.

"We regard Shambo as part of our family - just as much as you would regard your mother, father or brother."

Brother Jamie is one of 25 monks and nuns who live at Skanda Vale, where there has been a religious community since 1973. Each has taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Brother Jamie
We are not a violent community - we shall do what we do best - that is worship god
Brother Jamie

Brother Jamie explained: "A typical day would be a programme of services in our temples starting at five o'clock in the morning and the last one at nine o'clock in the evening.

"In between the services there is a lot of outdoor work for us to do - a lot of maintenance work, agricultural work and tending to the animals - so it's quite an active life.

"Initially it was just a very small temple, a farmhouse. But over the years more people have given their support and it has grown, attracting more people who have become monks and nuns as well as pilgrims."

During the summer they sometimes arrive by the coach load but the car park at the entrance has been even busier since the row over Shambo began.

The bullock has his own webcam sited in the temple and to date 17,000 people have signed petitions calling for him to be spared.

"We have had quite a few visitors coming to see Shambo - particularly when he makes the news - so I'm sure in the next few days we will get another influx of visitors," added Brother Jamie.

Skanda vale nestled in the valley
Skanda Vale blends into the woodland in rural Carmarthenshire

"Also we have had an awful lot of letters and phone calls of support from people we don't know - people who are not particularly religious but who appreciate we are making a stand for what we believe."

He accepts that some the community's beliefs may appear eccentric and concedes the wider farming community has very real fears over the spread of Bovine TB.

"It's not our mission to change the world - we are simply standing up to the sacred duty we have been given," he said

The community has made preparations for the end of the legal hearings.

Should the court rule Shambo should be put down then assembly government appointed vets arriving to take him from the temple will be faced worshippers praying outside.

"We are not a violent community..." brother Jamie said.

"If it comes to the crunch and we have done everything we can, we will be holding a festival of worship.

"That will take place around the shrine to Shambo where we will be praying and chanting and singing hymns of praise.

"They will have to disrupt the religious ceremonies going on - it will be down to the government officials if they wish to push through our services."

Monks pray for Shambo the bullock

Fresh call for Shambo's slaughter
19 May 07 |  South West Wales
Top vet's visit to 'sacred' bull
11 May 07 |  South West Wales
Slaughter fight for 'sacred' bull
09 May 07 |  South West Wales


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