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by Bonnie & Roger Riga

A few miles off the coast of South Wales lies the island of Caldey, which is owned by the Cistercian Order and is the home of an abbey and churches for about 30 monks. They follow a strict monastic schedule, rising at 3:30 a.m. for prayers and praying another six times a day. In addition to vows of chastity and poverty, they follow a rule of silence as well. The monks allow vacationers on the island and have a gift shop wherein they sell the perfumes, dairy products and confections made at the abbey. There is, as well, a post office which nowadays sells postcards which can be imprinted with, according to the travel website, the unique imprint of Caldey Island.

image1.jpg (43092 bytes)However in the 1970s and 1980s it was possible to buy some stamps of Caldey Island, which were a form of local post, a form of charity seal (since the funds raised were used for preserving the community and restoration work), and a form of tourist souvenir. Not a bad deal for the less than five pence charged for each stamp.Caldey has a long association with the religious life. As early as the 6th century A.D. Caldey was home to a hermit who gathered a small community of monks around him. Various buildings have arisen and been destroyed over the centuries, by natural means such as fires and unnatural means, such as Viking marauders. The monastery was closed down in the time of Henry VIII. In 1906, the island was sold to an Anglican priest who envisioned himself an abbot of an abbey and built a sumptuous house and chapel to go with the priory and two churches already on the island. His plans having gone awry, the island was again sold to a group of Belgian Cistercian monks, who continue there to this day.

Beginning in 1973, stamps were issued for use on postcards from the island to the mainland (Tenby) post office. Printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson and Co., and showing the various buildings of the religious community, the stamps were valued in "dabs", a local fish which also alluded to the fish as a symbol of Christianity. The Abbey church was shown on the first stamp, followed in 1974 by a stamp showing St. David's church. Two years after that, another stamp was issued with St. Illtud's church illustrated. In 1979, at the fiftieth anniversary of the Cistercians on the island a black and gold stamp showing the monastery buildings was issued. In 1981, another view of the Abbey church was used on a stamp.

We have been unable to find any mention of further stamps being issued. Apparently, tourists found that the lovely stamps were not necessary to carry their mail to the mainland and the demand for the stamps has gone down. Caldey Island sounds like a lovely spot to spend a summer day visiting. Maybe we could find the answer to our question of whether or not more stamps were issued and spend a few cents to take home a souvenir of " the little island that could."

This column first appeared in Scott Stamp Monthly and has been edited for online presentation.
This page was last updated July 8, 2016.
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