Buckfast: Monks more used to prayers than to controversy
A quiet community of Roman Catholic Benedictine Monks living peacefully in the idyllic Devonshire countryside has been thrust unwillingly into the limelight thanks to their once-humble tonic wine.
The original monastery at Buckfast was founded during the reign of King Cnut in 1018 and became a Cistercian abbey in 1147. It thrived in the medieval times but was closed and dissolved by Oliver Cromwell’s men in 1539 and over two centuries later, six monks arrived at Buckfast from Europe in 1882 and restoration began. It was to continue right into the 1930s and 40s.
The building work continued throughout the First World War, during which time the community, two-thirds of whom were German, were prohibited from leaving the monastery without special permission.
More used to prayer, education, hosting the occasional religious concert and a spot of bee-keeping, the black-cassocked devotees have been forced to to defend their product following adverse press coverage. They protest that anything from a car to a kitchen knife, while manufactured in good faith, could be used to cause harm.
The formula originated from the family of one of the nineteenth century monks.
It was produced and sold in small quantities along with other quasi-medicinal remedies in a little gift shop in the grounds of the abbey.
In the 1920s a new company, J Chandler & Co (Buckfast) Ltd was created which imported quality wine from around the world. The monks continued to blend and medicate it to produce Buckfast Tonic Wine.
The Monks of Buckfast Abbey still produce Buckfast Tonic Wine to more or less the same formula, which the monks say has been responsibly enjoyed by thousands of people for over 80 years.
They point out that products like Chartreuse, Champagne-type drinks, Bavarian and Trapisten beers and wines from all over Europe were and often still are brewed by monks without controversy.
In a press statement, the abbey said: “Buckfast was mentioned in 5,638 crimes in Strathclyde over the last three years, that is 1,879 per year.
“Given that there were 424,589 crimes recorded in Strathclyde last year, this is a very small proportion — about 4 in every 1,000.
“J Chandler and Co contacted the police who gave this statistic asking for details of other alcoholic products mentioned in the 424,589 crimes.
“The police were unable to give any information for any other brand.”