Throughout the western world Christmas is a
brash and brightly coloured commercial celebration, all tinsel and turkey, noise, expense,
and over-indulgence. On the tiny Orkney island of Papa Stronsay, however, a group of monks
will be celebrating in a much quieter, more contemplative way. They are the Transalpine
Redemptorists, who broke away from the Catholic Church and who celebrate the old Latin
mass. Although spirituality is at the core of their being, they are an eclectic bunch of
lively and characterful people, each with a tale to tell. David Hartley joins them in
their preparations for Christmas, explores the environment and community around them, and
discovers a Christmas that is a refreshing change to the rest of the country.
It takes David Hartley two hours and two boats
to get from Orkney mainland to Papa Stronsay. There are around 30 monks from all over the
world on the island, led by the redoubtable Father Michael Mary, a tall New Zealander
dressed in the order's ankle-length black habit with a long rosary slung from his neck.
They're building a traditional monastery and have already completed a church in a disused
herring packing shed. In contrast, they monks' individual cells look like little
bungalows. The monks make cheese from a small herd of Jersey cows they keep on Papa
Stronsay and have ambitions to go into bigger scale cheese making, using the profits from
sales to pay for the building of a church on the island.