Most residents of the Genesee Valley have not been to the Abbey, but are familiar with its most famous creation, small, tasty loaves of Monk’s Bread available in groceries throughout the region. The loaves come in several flavors, including white, whole wheat, raisin and sunflower seed, each marked with the distinctive image of the Trappist monk on the front.
The Trappist monks, formally called the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, is a Catholic order that strictly follows the rules of St. Benedict. While the Order is male and practices strict gender segregation, they do have a female branch (the “Trappestines”) Today there are almost 170 abbeys owned by the Order populated by around 2,500 monks and 1,800 nuns. Though the Order traces its foundations to the Rule of St. Benedict in the 6th century, it has recently gained world-wide fame through the writings of Thomas Merton. As a strict contemplative Order, the monks and nuns live lives of prayer and penance:
The day of a Trappist is divided between work and prayer. Manual work is preferred over other types of work and Trappist monasteries generally provide for themselves through the sale of goods produced in the monastery. Prayer is divided between the Divine Office, Lectio Divina and various other forms of meditative and contemplative prayer. Except for the ill, they abstain from meat, fish and fowl. To the extent that it is practical, they are expected to remain silent throughout the day and most especially at night. They are expected to live a life of strict personal poverty with few personal possessions and limited contact with the outside world.
"Strict Observance" does mean stricter silence, certain situations excepted. Contrary to popular belief, they don't take a vow of silence. However they will generally only speak when necessary, and idle talk is strongly discouraged. Meals are usually taken
in contemplative silence. (from Wikipedia, “Trappists”)
The bread delicious, if a bit small for the type of sandwhich that I enjoy, and the raisen variety in particular is an excellent as breakfast toast. While it is generally available in most Genesee Valley Wegmans and other stores, the best way to acquire the bread is to visit the Abbey itself.
Located on River Road, which, if one is heading from the Geneseo direction, is a right-hand turn off of Route 63/Genesee St. after Piffard and before Retsof. The bread store is open from 8 AM to 11 AM, 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM and 5:30 to 6:30 PM. If you get a chance, a detour into the devotional chapel (which is open when not in use) is a real highlight, it is one of the most beautiful small devotional rooms I have ever been in. However, don’t be surprised if you don’t see a monk (and if you do, don’t expect him to be interested in conversation); payment for the bread is optional and done through a small slot in the wall. Even without the option of not paying, the prices are exceptional—far lower than what one sees at the grocery- and there is much wider selection of baked goods: I remember pies, date or nut loaf, fruit cakes and brownies. The best news is that the bread itself freezes well, so you can stock up on the ocassional visit.
In conclusion, the Monk’s Bread and the Abbey of the Genesee are little local gems that definitely deserve a place on your table or a detour if you’re heading down Route 390.
-Posted by Jesse