Polish monks have a commercial habit

Photo: www.tyniec.benedyktyni.pl

They may not yet be global brands but 'Prayer Book' apricot jam and 'Novice Brothers' pickled mushrooms are just two of the products from the Benedictine monks of Tyniec abbey near Krakow. The Benedictine order has a tradition at Tyniec reaching back one thousand years but their commercial activities are something new.

The day at Tyniec starts with a 6 o'clock prayer and there are four more prayer sessions later in the day. The monks here are the Benedictines. Their order's motto is Ora et labora - pray and work - and indeed, they are the men of both prayer and hard work. Over a year ago, they came up with the idea of starting a business venture. As the Abbot of Tyniec, Father Bernard Sawicki told me, the move was dictated by the need to face the challenges of present-day reality.

"The community itself should find means for living through its own activities because we have changes in our country and so we need to adapt our actions to the new conditions. That's how the idea came into being. We decided to launch commercial activity. We discovered that there's a great need in the society for products of high quality. We managed to convince people that it's worthwhile and they started to support our idea and that's how the whole business has developed."

The line of products offered by the Benedictine monks includes jams, marmalades, honey, pickled mushrooms, dried fruit, herbal teas, juices and cheeses, all of them made according to the monastery's centuries-old recipes, with ecological ingredients. The products are sold in a shop on the monastery premises, on its website and through a supermarket chain. Some customers gave Insight Central Europe their reaction to the products.

"It's something unusual because they're said to follow old recipes and use home-made stuff. I'm definitely going to buy some of these products in the future."

"I didn't know anything about these products and I was just attracted by their names such as Angelic Apple Jam, Plum Meditation Jam and even Novice Brothers pickled mushrooms."

"I've tried Teutonic Knights cherries in an alcohol syrup. It tastes nice. I've heard it's made from home-made things. It's rather expensive but good value for the money."

Just over a year after the venture got off the ground, the monks can surely talk of a success. Abbot Bernard Sawicki looks with optimism into the future.

"We'd like to be transparent. We launch our structures very correctly and according to all standards. We hope that in two years a hundred shops with our products will open in the whole country. Our main concern is to control the quality of our products. It's very important to begin but it's more important to continue and to remain on the market."

In addition to a fast-expanding range of food products, the monks at Tyniec plan to offer picnic baskets, liturgical music CDs as well as wines from the Benedictine abbey in Hungary. A monk in charge of the business venture has started business management studies. Twelve lay employees have been taken on to help the monks run the business.

Perched on a cliff above the Vistula River, the monastery is a wonderful place to visit. Not only to do your shopping but also as a retreat. The monks have a couple of rooms for guests who want to share in community life or simply relax. That's an offer for men only but everyone is invited to visit the abbey's website - it's www.benedicite.pl.