The Trappist monks at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia have a reputation for many things; First, there’s the rule of silence that makes the abbey a refuge of peace and solitude from the hectic pace of modern life. Second, the monks are celebrating 60 years in Clarke County after moving here from Massachusetts in 1950. But the big item that keeps Holy Cross Abbey first in the hearts of the faithful each Christmas season is, you guessed it, FRUITCAKE!
“A customer called in today and told me that our fruitcake is the best that he has ever tasted” said Marianne Pagington of Berryville. Pagington began working at the Abbey in October to help the monks process the flood of fruitcake orders that faithfully begin pouring in each holiday season. “He said that after eating our fruitcake he felt like he had finally found a match for the fruitcake his mother always made each holiday season when he was a child.”
The monastery’s fourteen monks spend most of the year baking nearly 13,000 fruitcakes in a bakery located on the monastery grounds. However, most of the orders for the fruitcake come during November and December. The abbey shipped over 500 cakes on Monday alone.
But does anyone really like fruitcake?
Pagington offers an emphatic “Yes!” to the question.
“I was surprised when I learned that Monastery fruitcakes are shipped all over the world” Pagington says. “Since I started working we’ve sent fruitcakes to lords and ladies in England, a count and countess who live in a castle in Scotland and even a cardinal in Rome. But the coolest order so far is a fruitcake that we shipped to the prince of Bavaria in Germany!”
Despite Monastery fruitcake’s worldwide appeal, many local Clarke County residents know little about Holy Cross Abbey. The monks at Holy Cross Abbey are members of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also known as Trappists, and follow the Rule of St. Benedict which has guided monastic followers living in Christian communities for more than 1500 years.
Perhaps the best know Trappist in modern times is Thomas Merton, author of many well known books including his best-selling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, first published in 1948.
While the monks work hard to publicize their fruitcake offering every year, the order itself is cloistered, meaning that the Trappists minimize their interaction with outsiders and try not to leave the abbey any more than necessary.
“I was talking to someone in Berryville just the other day and they asked if the monks still made fruitcakes” Pagington marveled. “Some of the local people here in Clarke don’t realize what a little gem they have out here next to the mountain along the river.”
Pagington said that she first came to the abbey to visit its gift shop after she and her family moved to Berryville 14 years ago. “I came and bought some of the jams that the brothers offer” Pagington said. “They sell lots of delicious items.”
Pagington said that as good as Monastery fruitcakes are to eat, she realizes that not everyone is a fan of the delicacy. That’s why Pagington tells here friends that the abbey’s gift shop has lots of other delicious delicacies besides flavored honey and fruitcakes.
“The gift shop also offers fraters, which are thin slices of fruitcake dipped in chocolate, and truffles” Pagington said. “Just yesterday a man called to order some of our truffles and said that they were better than what he purchases in New York City.”
Pagington handles hundreds of calls from fruitcake customers every day and laughs that the two questions that she is asked most often by people calling Holy Cross Abbey are, first, “Are you a nun?’ and second, “Is it too late to purchase a fruitcake?”
Pagington says that the answer to both questions is “No!”
But even though Holy Cross Abbey ships its cakes all over the world through United Parcel Service (UPS) and other shippers, Pagington suggests that local people who want to buy a fruitcake simply drop buy the abbey’s gift shop and save the shipping charges.
“The gift shop sells all kinds neat things like books, music and religious items” Pagington said.
And, of course, it even sells fruitcakes.
Holy Cross Abbey is located just east of Berryville, Virginia at 901 Cool Spring Road. The monastery gift shop is open from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday though Saturday and 12:00 pm – 5:00pm on Sunday.