Poverty, Chastity, Chanting, and Beer (2008)

a perfect day for a monk in new york city

Though the life of a monk is highly regulated and ritualized, New York City is versatile enough to provide multiple venues in which to fulfill your duties as an aspiring oblate. To meet the demand for authentic 13th-century cowls, for instance, there is the Halloween Adventure Shop (104 Fourth Avenue, 212-673-4546), offering a one-size-fits-all brown robe and rope belt for $59.99 as well as an inexplicable black monk/ghoul alternative. While getting outfitted for virtue is pricey, accessorizing is less costly with a simple monk cross on a chain running only $3.99 and monk wigs 50 percent off.

Or if you'd prefer to modernize, become a friar. To join the Franciscan Holy Name Province (158 West 27th Street, 212-924-1451, hnp.org) you must be a practicing Roman Catholic between the ages of 22 and 38 willing to take vows of poverty and chastity, and "feel that God is calling you to religious life." If eligible, you then go on a "Franciscan Experience Weekend" to determine your vocation in the ministry.

Since you will be spending several hours of your day in prayer, I recommend attending the daily prayer services held in the largest cathedral in the world, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-316-7540, stjohndivine.org), where monks would have congregated in the "collegiate style" choir seven times daily while local merchants, street performers, and farm animals transformed the nave into an indoor marketplace and social center. Though St. John was founded by Bishop Horatio Potter in 1873, both medieval and modern-day cathedrals are paid for on a cash basis, hence this cavernous space is oddly half-Gothic/half-Romanesque and still only two-thirds complete.

Don't forget to take time out from praying to meticulously copy and embellish biblical texts. Elaborate, gloriously decorated manuscripts can be studied by way of example at the Cloisters (Fort Tryon Park, 212-923-3700, metmuseum.org), including an illuminated "Apocalypse" and miniature diptychs of babies descending into an anthropomorphic mouth of hell. Other worship-worthy objects include a reliquary that housed St. Juliana's skull, and another of a saint's arm. In the Cloisters' gift shop you can acquire useful and extensive literature on how to fend off the Black Death. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's gift shop (1000 Fifth Avenue, 212-535-7710, metmuseum. org) provides detailed how-to guides for gilding calf vellum.

Your one break from prayer, study, and labor will be your daily stroll around the monastery's sunny verdant courtyard—the only space where monks mingle with nuns. Here monstrous gargoyles scream menacingly at young novices, warning them to avoid lusty thoughts.

However, join the Brewist Monks and you can participate in the joint operation of Burp Castle (41 East 7th Street, 212-982-4576), a "Temple of Beer Worship" so named by "divine intervention" and lorded over by Saint Tsviatoslaw, the patron saint of hops—who is also featured in one of the many oil-painted faux religious scenes along the bar's walls. Drinkers are welcome to seek solace in the Castle's barrels of alcohol, robed men, incense, and resounding Gregorian chants. "Whispering only" is permitted, along with patrons at least 25 years of age, so as to deter rowdy bar-goers who might detract from the religious experience of the ale. "People's souls draw them here," one monk explained, "and we cleanse their spirit." Or rather the hundreds of varieties of high-quality beer do—all of them formally blessed.

Once you've had your fill of Chimay and other monk-brewed Belgian beers, you can return to your bed of straw exhausted, but happy knowing you've fulfilled your duties to God, in seclusion and in style.


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