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THE GOODS | CYBURBIA

A Web Page That Can Be a Religious Experience

August 06, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It should come as no surprise that monks have taken to the Internet's World Wide Web.

The Web is a medium of text and graphics, both of which have long histories in monastic orders. It is for the most part a silent medium where people of common interests can exchange ideas. And it's a good place to sell fruitcakes.

"Won't you give your family and friends a 'special treat' from Gethsemani Farms for your special occasions?" asks the Abbey of Gethsemani home page, based at a monastery that makes fruitcakes and cheeses for sale to the public.

Elsewhere on the Web you can find Trappist Preserves made at St. Joseph's Abbey in Massachusetts and chocolate fudge made by the Brigittine monks of Oregon, who display a good sense of humor about their product. A magazine article quoted on the Brigittine site says, "I've always found it amusing that many of the adjectives we use to describe chocolate connote a deeply felt theological reverence for the stuff."

Most of the monasteries represented on the Web also include material of a spiritual nature. The monks at Gethsemani, in Trappist, Ky., have put up a handsome site that features beautiful color pictures of the buildings and grounds they have occupied since 1848. The site includes a history of the order, its principles and information on becoming a monk (http://www.monks.org).

But the best of the monk sites--indeed, one of the best sites on the Web--was created by the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, near Abiquiu, N.M. The monks here have truly capitalized on the digital revolution. In the tradition of monastic scriptoria, these brothers raise funds by creating Web pages for commercial enterprises.

"We don't have any parchment on hand (well, maybe a little), and even paper is used sparingly," they say on the site. "We write on electrons, creating cyber-books: pages for the World Wide Web."

If the pages these monks create for others are as evocative as the ones on their own site, their services will certainly be welcome in the secular world. Their page is dominated by a spectacular illustration--in the manner of those found in centuries-old hand-written manuscripts--featuring a drawing of the main chapel, abstract representations of desert birds and a clickable guide to other parts of the site. One gateway takes you to "Brother URL," a modern version of a gatekeeper. Here, you can continue on to sections on monastic life, Gregorian chant and the inevitable monastery gift shop.

The chant section is especially lovely. Click on a singing angel and you automatically download a sound clip of monk chanting. In other sections, you can e-mail prayer requests to the monks.

Unlike groups that so revere the printed word, these monks have embraced new technologies and are using them in a dignified manner. You do not have to be Catholic or religious to appreciate what they have done--and to wish that more groups on the Web would emulate them.

The site's address is http://www.christdesert.org/pax.html.

Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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