Grounds for Grace


“Get thee to a nunnery,” Hamlet told Ophelia, urging her to chastity; but were he to make the same demand today, the chances are he’d be packing her off to a five-star hotel where she could spend the night with her lover in a king-size bed.

While monasteries have always been hospitable, obliged by the Rule of St Benedict to open their doors to whomever the Lord might send their way, in secular times that hospitality has reached another level. In a wave of recent conversions, cells have been knocked together to create large and light bedrooms, modern plumbing has been installed, and refectories have been turned into gourmet restaurants.

Such earthly delights are persuasive, but the most compelling thing about monastic hotels is their serenity. As well as being physically beautiful, ex-monasteries are often strikingly spiritual, as if centuries of prayer and plainchant have seeped into their massive walls. A stay in a cloister seems to incline one to contemplation, reading, sleeping well and turning off the mobile. The EA also has it on good authority that hymnals and rosaries are available for the patently pious.

There are now hundreds of monastic hotels in Europe and Latin America—all across the Catholic world, for Napoleon dissolved monasteries with a lighter touch than Henry VIII. All this talk of religiosity reminds me of James Joyce’s “soft sweet swoon of sin.”

The following five seem to have their spirit intact:


Intelligent Life




~ by eaesthete on 04/20/09.

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