Like father like bun... abbey opens tea room for visitors at long last

THE brotherhood of St Benedict prided itself on its hospitality to guests centuries before it settled at Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire.

But, although Ampleforth is now the largest monastic community in the country, it has not been able to offer its 6,000 visitors a year so much as a cup of tea.

Now the monks can turn over a new leaf after converting a once spartan guest refectory, where clergy on retreat ate off trestle tables, into a tea room and cafe serving up the fruits of the order's labours in the grounds and orchards.

Although it is run by lay members of the community – Ampleforth's catering department – it is the monks who provide many of the mouth-watering ingredients.

Abbot's executive officer Liam Kelly said: "The driving force behind it is there are a lot of people who pass through and there is nowhere for a cup of tea for the thousands of visitors. There is not even a tea room in Ampleforth Village.

"Yet we have a lot of visitors to the abbey, and parents coming into the school. It is a landmark to be visited but we had nowhere we could offer them cup of tea, let alone calorie-free Death by Chocolate.

"Everything there is made on site so it is all very fresh."

People working at Ampleforth and college sixth formers have also joined the queue for the tea room's sandwiches, tea, coffee, pastries and menu of the day.

Although Ampleforth Abbey and its boarding school date from the 19th century, the community can trace its history back to Henry VIII's break with Rome.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the middle of the 16th century, the English Benedictines were exiled to France but were forced to return to Britain after the French Revolution.

In 1802 Lady Anna Fairfax, of nearby Gilling Castle, offered them lodgings at Ampleforth Lodge, then home of the Fairfax family chaplain.

The dilapidated house was torn down in the 1980s to make way for a new main hall which is also the site of the new tea shop.

The community has grown to more than 40 monks who provide tours of the Abbey Church and orchards. There is also a sports centre used by the public.

Father Rainer, who works in the Ampleforth Abbey Orchard, sees the tea room as part of the abbey's outreach to the wider community.

He said: "Food and drink is a great way to welcome visitors to the abbey to take in the atmosphere of this beautiful part of Yorkshire. We want people to come and visit us, join the community in prayer and enjoy the stunning surroundings.

"Providing a delicious piece of homemade apple cake and a perfect cup of tea or coffee is a simple act of hospitality expressing the welcome that is at the heart of every Benedictine monastery."

The new venture aims to serve the best in local produce, with cakes, sandwiches and meals made on site. Many of the recipes use the produce of the abbey itself. These include apples from what is the northernmost commercial orchard in the UK, and Fr Rainer's cider-making enterprise and chocolates.

Paintings are on show by 87-year-old Fr Martin, a former arts master at Ampleforth College. To complete the local atmosphere, furnishings are by Kilburn craftsman Robert "Mouseman" Thompson.

An abbey spokesman said: "Some 1,500 years ago Saint Benedict said no monastery should be without guests. Guests at Ampleforth Abbey can now relax and, in holy surroundings, succumb to the temptations of the delicious local produce."

n The tea room is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am to 5.30pm, and on Sundays from noon- 5.30pm.

THE ANSWER TO YOUR PRAYERS?

Highlights from the menu include:

Fr Rainer's Apple Cake:

Traditional upside down cake made with apples from the Ampleforth orchard and Fr Rainer's cider: 2.25

Ampleforth Vanilla & Fudge Cheesecake:

Fr Hugh's cheesecake with crumbled fudge and fresh vanilla pods: 2.55

Pear & Almond Tart:

An old Ampleforth recipe of crisp pastry base filled with pears and topped with almonds: 2.65

Chocolate Fudge Cake:

Three layers of moist cake combined with chocolate fudge topped with milk and white chocolate flakes: 2.45

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