Visiting a monastery

Yesterday I promised to write about the monastery visit in Gran Can. Here it is:

To get to the monastery you can’t necessarily rely on the signs around the village of Santa Brigada, and should rather ask some people on the streets. Most people know about it and eventually when you start climbing a hill nearby (google it first, or go with a map) you’ll see a small sign.

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The road up to the building takes you three minutes in a car so for the brave it’s possible to do it walking too. The moment you step out of the car you’ll notice an appealing silence only interrupted by the cliche-like reality of birds singing from all angles.

We didn’t have any appointment to get in or anything and all of the sudden we got a bit worried it may be inappropriate to just step up at a monastery like that as curious tourists. However, although I didn’t have a personal agenda other than visit a monastery for the first time in my life, I was in this case together with two people working for a Christian organisation on the other side of the island. They might know about us, the island isn’t that big, Hilde said while we were waiting at the doorway.

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After knocking twice on the massive wooden door, two young monks dressed in black appeared with calm faces (just the way I would expect a munk to look like). Hilde presented the reason why we wanted to visit them, and before she even finished they welcomed us in with an arm move and whispering voices. After introducing us briefly inside of a small what looked to me as a waiting room with paintings of Maria and crosses on the walls, the monk named Valentin asked us to join him on a tour.

Valentin was born on one of the other Canary islands, but had moved here at the age of 17 to develop his life as a monk. He constantly talked with a whispering voice and held an impressive amount of details about the monastery, its history, how to become a monk, what kind of people that apply to become one, monk life, the suit and their study rituals.

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This is a picture from the ‘patio’, a small garden in the middle of the building, where the monks often walk around in circles praying, or meditate. On the picture is one of the (currently) older monks of this monastery.

After an hour we felt a very good connection with the guide, he told us to take pictures whenever we wanted to and ask questions of any kind. Just like big-eyed kids we went after him from room to room asking all kinds of “myth related” questions.

At 6.30 the bells rang and he told us he had to go to service. That service is one of the many different sessions where the 9 monks, the ‘father’ and the priest gather, sing, read and pray together in church. We were invited to watch it and grabbed some bibles from a book shell. A lady that apparently wasn’t there for her first time told us what pages to look up. Personally it’s a while in between each time I’m participating in a service, whatever the religious institution, but somehow I understood by now that this was one I couldn’t miss.

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Waiting for it to begin

The nine monks entered the room separately and gathered around the alter where one monk was standing lighting up the candles on top of it. Then one monk after the other moved forward and lit up more candles before they sat down on their chairs towards the walls, facing each other with a distance of 1,5 meter. One of the younger monks suddenly started halfly reading/singing a verse from the bible, soon accompanied by another monk or the whole group according to how they’d learned the various texts.

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The sound of it instantly gave me goosebumps and when I looked over to Hilde and Arild I could see they were in the same state as well. The monks took us on a spiritual journey that for a while felt like lasted forever, but never in the sense of getting boring. I was stunned by the feelings that ran through my body during the time I sat there listening, and my eyes went wet on several occasions.

Though they are hard to explain in written form, I will never forget the sound of their voices. Due to the acoustics in the room it also sounded very loud, yet perfectly tuned and I promised myself I’ll look into monk music from now on to listen to whenever I feel like I need some extra peace. And that was what they all had, and that was what they explained through their singing: Peace. Just like that.

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Picture of the alter – taken before the service

I know now that each and every of them had their specific task throughout the ritual and that it clearly wasn’t the first time the monks were singing together. And thinking about all the time and effort they put into these simple rituals every day, really stands to me as something admirable. Although I’m not religious I’ve never doubted that when it comes to love, hope and dreams we are all the same as human beings. And soon Valentin was going to show us more of the monastery’s work in this very respect.

Because straight after the service he wanted to show us more (eager guy)! And by then we could tell he is of the cheerful types, from how he highlighted details about what monks do to have fun and ‘loosen up’ after the long days of studies, prayer and work. He also repeatedly mentioned how social and family alike it is in the monastery and used the words solidarity, democracy and community.

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Sometimes it was a handful to take in all the details of monk living in Spanish before trying to translate it correctly to Norwegian.

We were invited to see the kitchen, where two monks came out and laughed at themselves due to the aprons over their monk suits. Kitchen duty is part of the monks’ various ‘work tasks’ on the monastery for it to go round. Valentin introduced another monk as the organ player of the service that day, while another instantly said that what we’d heard under the service was recorded, and not live.

Everybody burst into laughter and the organ player said we could get a glass of wine. Valentin cut him off with a smile: “I’m trying to do my work showing these people our house”, and took us with him. Giggling at the whole incident and going up the stairs Valentin said “be careful with that guy (the organ player), he’s very passionate about life, when he starts, he’s on forever”.

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View from one of the rooms people stay in

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Where the guests at the monastery have their meals.

By the end of the tour I admitted to myself my ignorance of not ever having thought much or doubted the ‘myths’ related to monks’ lives. Or better said, Ive hardly thought about it, but Ive definitely somehow assumed they all live in silence and pray all day long, hardly laugh or see their families, nor talking to people from the outside. Fail!

The tour turned out to be not only educative meaningful, but social and friendly, and thanks to Valentin, very funny in a cute way. Before saying goodbye we stood on the parking lot and one monk came out searching for the monastery’s cat. Valentin asked him to take a picture of the 4 of us. Before hitting the trigger the photographer monk had a shy looking expression on his face. As if he had a confession to make, he said it was important for him to tell us that “the joke about the organ play not being live, wasn’t true”.

Ah. Sweetheart! I went straight over and kissed him on his forehead (in my thoughts).

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When leaving the monastery we’d been almost 4 hours with the monks, and had to open the windows to get out some of the energy we filled the car with. We were amazed by the experience, our guide, the feeling around them all and of discovering how our old presumptions changed. Besides I was thrilled to have discovered the monastery offers rooms for a very cheap rent. Apparently they’re very popular among poor students. So, as a student and as I’m here I thought to try it before traveling North. If not, it’s a good mention for others to know about.

A visit to the monastery in Santa Brigada, Gran Canaria is highly recommended!

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