Don and I stepped onto the walk-on ferry from Cannes, France, and found our seats. Motoring through the cerulean waters, we passed St. Marguerite Island, which held a stone fortress which used to be a large prison. Cannes, and its busy, over-the-top multi-million dollar yachts, its Cannes Film Festival red carpet (coming two weeks after our visit), its high-rise hotels and spectacular villas, receded into the distance. The water’s various blue hues inspired wonder as we approached the dock at Isle St. Honorat. Sailboats of various sizes and styles dotted the water surrounding this small piece of land which has been home to a community of monks since the fifth century.
Tradition says that Honoratus settled on the island, intending to live the life of a hermit. However, disciples followed him and formed a monastic community. Their life on the island was often interrupted by raids, primarily by Saracens. The monks were expelled when the island was captured by the Spanish in 1635; however, they returned two years later when France retook Isle St. Honorat.
Continuing attacks on the monastery by Spanish and Genoese reduced the number of monks to four, and the monastery was disestablished in 1787.
In 1859, the Bishop of Frejus bought the island with the intent of reestablishing a religious community there. Ten years later, a Cistercian community was established, which has remained there since.
We were not allowed to enter the monastery; however, we could walk up to enter the church and visit the tower. The walk was beautiful. Vineyards lined both sides of the dirt road, and the monastery’s tower was clearly visible against an azure sky.
As we walked past the shops where the monks sell wine and honey made from local produce, we also saw the effect of loving care for the property. Red, pink, periwinkle flowers grew up against stuccoed walls, reaching toward the sun. I took photos and delighted in the beauty of the scene, when I heard music coming from the church. Yes, we had arrived while the monks were singing their daily mass. The acoustics in the high-ceilinged, beautiful-without-being-ornate church, bounced the monks’ antiphonal sounds into the courtyard and thrilled my being. Quietly entering the church, many of us sat to listen and worship as the monks sang “Hallelujah.”
Here we were, on another side of the world, enjoying worship with monks we’d never met, with different languages yet united in “hallelujah” to our God. That will remain a treasured moment in my soul.
When has your spirit been drawn to worship because of music, a kind word, or a loving touch?