chapter  13
14 Pages

The monastic cloister: A bridge and a barrier between two worlds

ByKEVIN D. O’GORMAN AND PAUL A. LYNCH

In a theoretical model, religious retreats are placed by Lynch (2005a) within the category of traditional commercial homes, noting that the essence of a commercial home is the use of the home as a vehicle for generating income. This chapter explores the provision of hospitality within Benedictine monastic cloisters in order to contribute to insights on the commercial home, and starts by locating them within the context of literature on religious tourism and the umbrella term ‘religious retreat house’. The literature on religious tourism where ‘participants are motivated

either in part or exclusively for religious reasons’ (Rinschede 1992: 52) has very largely overlooked the importance of the accommodation. The focus has included: classification of forms of religious tourism noting its close interrelationship with holiday and cultural tourism (Murray and Graham 1997; Rinschede 1992); aspects of tourism development, management and environmental protection (Murray and Graham 1997; Rinschede 1992; Shackley 1999); pilgrimage as reinforcing social boundaries and distinctions (Eade and Sallnow 1991); the socially constructed nature of religious spaces (Gatrell and CollinsKreiner 2006); religious centres (Rinschede 1992). Characteristics of ‘religious tourists’ have been explored variously noting: an affinity to social and group tourism involving travelling with believers of a similar age (Rinschede 1992); varying age and gender profiles by location and religion (Murray and Graham 1997); debate regarding the various tourist motivations along a pious pilgrim-secular tourist/sacred pilgrimage-secular dimension (Murray and Graham 1997; Nolan and Nolan 1989); and embracing of experiential, existential (pilgrims especially), diversionary, recreational and experimental modes of tourism (Cohen 1979). Of note is discussion concerning conflict and its management between different socio-spatial practices of pilgrims and tourists (Gatrell and Collins-Kreiner 2006); largely, such discussions convey a sense of a distant outsider’s perspective and a concern with the macro perspective rather than understanding of organisational micro-dynamics. One might wish to distinguish between visits to religious sites and stays in

religious accommodation. Shackley (1999; 2001) discusses the case of the

St Katherine monastery in Sinai and notes the historical and religious significances of this working site where 25 monks live. An estimated 97,000 visitors per annum have access to a very limited portion of the monastery. Shackley (1999: 547) reports that, as a result of the number of visitors, the monks have difficulty in maintaining their quality of life, and is pessimistic regarding the ability to balance ‘God and mammon’. A further study by Shackley (2004) identifies an international religious accommodation market which includes the notions of the religious retreat house. This is defined as: ‘ … a small firm that provides catered accommodation and spiritual input for guests (sic) in search of peace and quiet, whether or not this is associated with a religious or monastic experience’ (p. 228). These retreat houses include working convents and monasteries and, based on an analysis of Shackley’s (2004) description, show several similarities as well as differences in comparison with the traditional commercial home (Table 13.1). Similarities relate to the dwelling also being a home, business motivations

and management methods, and low occupancy, whilst differences relate to the level of product investment, the nature of the accommodation experience and the venture often being loss-making. Noticeably the ‘differences’ may also be found, although less commonly, in some traditional commercial homes. Shackley (2004) indicates that the religious retreat house accommodation sector is not homogeneous as it embraces a range of accommodation types that do not always include a home dimension, for example religious conference centres. Akin to the commercial home is the description of retreat houses as ‘deeply conservative product-led organisations whose constricted operating environments mean … little opportunity for flexibility … or innovation’ (Shackley 2004: 229). Visitor motivations are

identified as ranging from doing nothing to engagement with religious activities. ‘Staff’ are people who deal with guest accommodation and the outside world, e.g. the abbot and designated community members. Shackley’s description of religious retreat houses is located in the context of a sectoral overview rather than a provider or guest insider perspective of the accommodation experience. McKenzie and Ryan (2004) describe how, with the help of a lay entrepre-

neur, a Benedictine monastery in Western Australia has adapted the ethos of hospitality and developed commercial activities in relation to food and wine, taking advantage of an opportunity to align the products to social trends concerning the slow-food movement. A key concern of this community is to preserve and minimise the impact upon the prevailing way of life, in effect to preserve their world whilst interacting with the external world. In relation to stays in a Benedictine monastery, Ouellette et al. (2005) surveyed male guest motivations using a preconceived conceptual framework, Attention Restoration Theory (Kaplan 1995), and identified four motivation dimensions: being away, compatibility, i.e. a ‘search for an environment … supportive of dealing with difficult and perhaps even painful matters … , beauty and spirituality’ (Ouellette et al. 2005: 6). First time ‘visitors’ (sic) were identified as more likely to have personal problems, and repeat visitors had stronger motivations in respect of beauty and spirituality. Over 90 per cent of the 500+ respondents were aged between 30 and 60 years with a fairly even distribution across age groupings.