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Monks offer internships at Quarr Abbey

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Media captionThe BBC's Robert Piggott says Quarr Abbey will offer its interns the space and peace to take stock of their lives

When Michael Edwards arrived at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight for his two-month internship, he admits he felt a sense of trepidation.

The monastery - built by exiled French monks in the "expressionist" style - was avant garde when it was completed in 1914.

It is appealing, surrounded by orchards, gardens and woodland running down to the shore, but austere too.

Michael - who's 26 - trained as a lawyer, but left his first job, feeling restless and unsuited for a job tied to a desk.

He did a number of casual jobs, while he tried to take stock of his life, most recently clearing drains in his home city of Liverpool.

'Drastic move'

"I suppose I'm at something of a crossroads," he says. "It's important to me to be laying some real foundations in terms of what I am doing with my life.

"Taking the decision to do something quite drastic like finishing my job and going to live in a monastery, is something which only recently I've had the courage to do."

Now, Michael was swapping the material world for a spartan room in the attic of the monastery, and a simple routine of work, worship and contemplation.

Image caption Intern Michael Edwards said he adjusted very quickly to the new lifestyle

They are disciplines guarded for 1,500 years by the Benedictine order to which Quarr (it's pronounced Core) Abbey belongs.

Now they want to offer them back to a society they say is more in need of reflection and a spiritual grounding than ever.

The abbey is offering young men internships in which they will share the lives, traditions and daily routine of the nine monks.

In the refectory - built to contain 10 times as many people - lunch is frugal.

The monks, each dressed in a black habit, sing grace and hear a reading from the pulpit. Then they eat in silence.

'The Great Silence'

Interns will be expected to contribute to the life of the monastery in return for their board and lodging, and some teaching in the traditions of the Benedictine order.

Michael, and his fellow intern Blake, were shown the orchards during their first few days, where apples are almost ready to be picked. Nearby is the vegetable garden and the piggery.

Interns will work for about four hours during every day except Sundays.

Father Luke Bell went through the abbey's daily timetable with the interns, in the tranquil quadrangle surrounded by cloisters and laid out with shrubs and flowers.

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Media captionBBC's Robert Pigott meets one of the first interns, 26-year-old Michael Edwards

The timetable includes seven services, starting before daybreak and ending with vespers at dusk.

There is study time and a period they call the Great Silence.

Father Luke says the internship is inevitably compared to work experience offered by some companies, and to gap years, in which young people sometimes seek to "find themselves" in trips overseas.

"This is deeper," he says. "It draws from a deeper well. It's grounding. We hope they would become more centred. It's an opportunity to find an integrity and helps young people to be open to life."

The internship is not designed as a trial run for potential novices. Father Luke says it was created in response to requests from outside.

"A lifelong commitment is hard, that's why we thought it would be helpful to offer this shorter two-month period."

Dr Gemma Simmonds of Heythrop College, part of London University, has inspected a lot of young people's CVs, and advises graduates about how to prepare for the world of work.

She believes a monastery internship could serve a young person better than many other schemes or gap years.

"It means that you are a centred person, you know what you want, you know the task ahead and how to discipline yourself to achieve it. But you also know how to include other people in your world. Most of us want to live with people like that."

Image caption Interns admit they worried about loneliness at the monastery

The first interns at Quarr Abbey have decided the more they put in, the more they'll get out of the experience.

Just before 05:30 each morning so far, they have emerged from their rooms, clattered down the echoing stairwell and into the church for vigils, the first service of the day.

The abbey buildings, and the Scots Pines fringing the woodland loom darkly, although the first hint of sunlight is visible behind the church.

Inside the church seems dark and large, dwarfing the interns where they sit in the nave.

There's another service before breakfast, then reading in their rooms.

Applications welcome

Except for Michael's few belongings on the desk and a crucifix on the wall, it looks a bit like a student room in an old university during the vacation.

Michael admits that he feared both boredom and loneliness before he arrived, but has experienced neither so far.

"The prospect of loneliness loomed large, but I think there is actually a real joy in the simplicity of life here… although it does seem daunting when we first move towards it."

Perhaps it's partly the ferry ride from Portsmouth or the shaded path that leads from the little port at Fishbourne to the abbey, but it seems more isolated than it is.

The monks say it does offer a retreat from the materialism, the constant urgency and the instant gratification that dominate society outside, and the space and time to take stock of life.

The idea has proved so appealing that the scheme is continuing, and applications are welcomed from young men, ideally aged between 18 and 25, ready to participate in monastic life.

The abbey says its medieval disciplines and traditions can bestow practical benefits on contemporary interns, of the kind that last a lifetime.

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