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JAUNTS

Taste of Tranquillity

What started as a sort of monks' market has grown into a popular annual festival at Valyermo abbey.

September 24, 1998|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's a great opportunity this weekend to get away without having to go very far. Just check out the 41st annual Fall Festival at St. Andrew's Abbey in the Antelope Valley, about a 45-minute drive from L.A.

The Abbey is a monastery that sits on a scenic, 750-acre ranch, seemingly a world away from the hectic city.

Surrounded only by land and a small road, the place makes you feel as if you're out in the country or the middle of nowhere.

Point is, visiting it can probably help most people disconnect without having to drive for hours, a real treat in these parts.

The Abbey was founded in 1955 by Chinese monks ousted by Communists in their own country. When they arrived, the location was known as Hidden Springs Ranch.

Initially, the monks created the festival as a country fair where ranch-grown fruits and vegetables were sold to help defray the cost of running the monastery.

Over the years it grew into a big, festive event with arts and crafts, entertainment, lots of food and a variety of activities for adults and children.

Apples are the only fruit still grown at the ranch and they'll be for sale too, freshly picked from the orchards that decorate the grounds.

Abbot Francis Benedict, who runs the monastery, says the annual bash has provided a means for observing various events and rites over the years.

"It started as a harvest festival and a celebration of freedom from the Communist regime," he said. "Now it's a great way to get the community out. We get about 27,000 people each year."

Among the festival's highlights is the artwork of Maur Van Dooerslaer, a priest who lives in Belgium half the year and at St. Andrew's Abbey the other half.

His work, which has become quite popular with festival-goers through the years, includes handmade ceramic plaques and figures of angels, saints and biblical scenes. More than 1,500 pieces will be on display Saturday and Sunday.

"A lot of people buy his art as Christmas gifts," Benedict said. "You can't beat the prices, and the pieces are incredible as well as unique."

Approximately 90 other artists will also sell their work, which includes dolls, hats, paintings, glass, woodwork and jewelry.

Award-winning quilter Sue Handley of Palmdale will demonstrate quilt-making and display some of her top creations.

If you like bargains--and who doesn't?--you must check out the flea market, where all sorts of items donated to the monastery will be sold cheap.

Festival organizers like to call it "recycled treasures," but it's more like a big garage sale with all sorts of unique and interesting items. They include dishes, glasses, clothes, artwork and an array of knickknacks.

A separate area will feature two large stalls with used books.

Those not in the mood to spend money can kick back to the nonstop entertainment on two stages. Bands will play blues, country and rock, and the comedy group Nuns for Fun will perform its song-and-dance routine inspired by the movie "Sister Act."

There will also be a Mexican ballet folkloric performance and a vesper dance celebration featuring monks.

Both days, musicians will circulate throughout the grounds, playing bagpipes and guitars.

For kids there will be a petting zoo, pony rides and free baby-sitting. An area for teenagers will have games and rides designed specifically for them.

The festival will span about 25 acres, and the entire ranch and a church that was once a stable will be open to the public.

A brief stroll through the peaceful grounds should be enough to help most folks relax.

BE THERE

The 41st annual Fall Festival, Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. at St. Andrew's Abbey, 31001 N. Valyermo Road in Valyermo. Admission is free, but parking is $4. Directions and information: (805) 944-2178.

* Send Jaunts ideas, allowing at least two weeks' notice, to staff writer Irene Garcia at The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Irene.Garcia@latimes.com.

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