SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY - by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert) - St.Tosia has a well-functioning health care system. The modern 75-bed fully equipped hospital of the island belongs to the Hospice of St.Tosia which is part of the Catharsis Monastery. From its foundation on until today, at the Hospice of St.Tosia, the elderly, disabled and sick people, orphans, women about to give birth and the destitute have all been uninterruptedly welcomed for treatment and refuge.
Medical insurance did not exist then when the Hospice was founded in the 17th century and is not required now either, no down payments for admission, no credit cards and no invoices. It saves the hospital the costs of a bureaucratic administration apparatus. No need to stand in line for admission or registration. No need to show an ID because every needy individual is a human being first and not a number. The patient gets what is needed, period. The Hospice was and is still financed by donations of grateful families of patients and generous benefactors who are often offshore investors and descendants of the pirates of the good-old-days way back then.
The Hospice of St.Tosia was founded by Bonne Soeur Aubrey de Beaune who was so disturbed by the variety of abuse she experienced during her six-week sailing trip from the French port of Nantes to the Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe in 1635, that she decided to distance herself from her partner and managed to escape to St.Tosia where she entered the Order of Catharsians. The Catharsian nuns on the island are also known as “Merciful Mothers of the Innocent Lambs” and they are devoted medical missionaries. For them medical support and care are a calling and not a business. From the very beginning the “Merciful Mothers” who operate the hospital have also opened their establishment for the education of young ladies, and it is known as the “Convent of the Innocent Lambs”. Many young brats from the island have learned from the saintly health practicing teachers; lessons that have fortified them for their future duties in the world.
The Catharsis Monastery crowns the rugged Kalinago Hill on the most northern part of St.Tosia. It was constructed on top of an older pagan site of the Carib Indians who have populated the island from about 1200 AD but were later displaced by the European conquerors by warfare and extermination. An old manuscript in the library of the monastery explains that the reason for the construction on the hilltop was to remind monks “of the ascent they must make in their life”.
The somewhat tilting Bell Tower of the chapel next to the cloister is one of the most significant landmarks in the Caribbean. Every 15 minutes “La Nina”, the high voice small bell in the chapel tower rings; one ding for quarter past the hour, two dings for the half hour, three for quarter to, and four signaling that the full hour was reached and then it was followed by the one to twelve dongs of “La Nonna”, the big bell, indicating the hour. Fifteen minutes before a worshipping service in the chapel there are three full minutes of dingdonging mission bells.
On the way up the meandering road to the monastery one cannot help but notice that you are disconnecting yourself from the turmoil below. The silence becomes palpable as the dwellings are now few and far between. It is one of the most peaceful and tranquil places on the Island where the environment is outright serene. The views from the hilltop to the sea are breath taking and the atmosphere is invigorating. The Catharsis Monastery complex encompasses not only the religious buildings, but also a farm, a home for the aged, a drug rehabilitation unit and of course the Hospice with its modern Hospital.
The Order of Catharsians allows for both monks and nuns; a mixed bag, you might call it. The Catharsis Monastery is currently headed jointly by Prior Petrus and Abbess, the Reverent Mother Dominiana. To become a Catharsian Nun or Monk, the desire alone does not suffice. Alone she or he enters the order who has felt a call in the very center of the soul which is more powerful than any of the contradictory forces within and around her or him; a rule which may not always be easy to stick to on an island like St.Tosia.
Whereas the nuns are devoted to health care and prayer, the monks are under slightly different types of vows and spend less time in prayer and more time in farming, manual labor and undertaking physical repairs provide assistance to the monastery community and managing supplies; monks-of-all-trades so to say.
During the daily evening mess the Gregorian chants of the monks permeate the entire compound and mesmerize anyone. They sing like heavenly angels. That is not surprising because prior to the evening mess there is a “Happy Hour” and it is the only time of the day that the consumption of alcoholic beverages is allowed and only of those devout drinks produced at other saintly monasteries, like the fine French liquors Chartreuse and DOM Benedictine and Trappist Beer of the Westmalle Abbey in Belgium.
Also permitted in this hour is the smoking of incense cigars that spread the sweet perfume similar to that of patchouli oil and high-ascending smoke. It is all solely employed for the divine purpose of worship and lifting the spirits of this celestial community. The other day, as he inhaled the blessed aromatic odor, the 85-year-old and somewhat conservative Friar Augustin commented that he believed that it smelled like burnt lawn clippings. The young and very liberal Friar Sunshine, who is in charge of cultivation of herbs and spices in the Clairvaux type cloister gardens, hid a big grin behind his beard when he heard the comment.
The Catharsian monks of St.Tosia have rereleased several CDs of Gregorian Reggae Chants that evangelize Caribbean Reggae. Their songs are well sold worldwide on Spotify under their group artist name of “The Barefoot Friars”. The custom of chanting unshod was introduced by Prior Petrus several years ago since he believed that Pope Gregory the Great, who gave his name to Gregorian music in the early Middle Ages, would be proud if he could hear the Friars from St.Tosia sing their Gregorian Reggae interpretations. The album “Rocksteady Gregorian Reggae” by the “The Barefoot Friars” made it to the Billboard 100 for seven consecutive weeks and the solo song “Cantus Calypso Gregoriani” by the white-bearded Friar Eucredo became an instant smash in the Caribbean as soon as it hit the airwaves.
The well-known Billboard magazine of the popular music industry commented that if you let the Friars-on-bare-feet lose on stage, they are wild crowd pleasers. It should not come as a surprise that the Catharsian Friars have their own float in the St.Tosia Carnival Parade and the amplified Gregorian Reggae Chants appeal to the cheering crowds who are hard-driving uncontrollably off the beat.
The funds earned from royalties and group appearance fees are another form of financial support of the Monastery. After all, it was founded on the principles of self-sufficiency. In that regard it should also be mentioned that the handmade Sandals of the Catharsian Monks are sold in all the souvenir shops of St.Tosia and cruise ship gift shops as “orthotic friendly flip-flops”.
It was in 1925 that the renowned rum-runner Walter “Wally” Britches, owner of the only rum distillery on the island and the then sanctuary’s Prior Primus agreed on holding a Charity Rum Auction which is now still held in November each year. Rum distilleries from the neighboring islands would donate rum in a barrel that yields approximately 288 standard 750 ml bottles which translate to 24 cases of 12 bottles. The management of the distilleries would be blessed in a special ceremony in the chapel, and receive a certified recognition of being “Purveyor to the Monastic Court of St.Tosia”, which all works quite well for their product adverting and promotions.
After the donation, the rum remains in the cellars of the Monastery to mature in the oak barrels for another year or two; it will then be bottled, labeled, and packed up for shipment mainly to the USA. The label on the bottles features the prominent crest of the Hospice of St.Tosia, as well as the name of the company that bought the rum. Although the prestigious weekend surrounding the Charity Rum Auction has become a vanity event, the funds go to support the benevolent works of the Monastery of St.Tosia.
About the author:
The almost true stories and almost believable stories of St.Tosia are written by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert who claims that it is what he has experienced while residing on St.Tosia and monitoring what else is going on in the Caribbean.