Caldey

Francesca Jones

Caldey is a small island located south of Tenby in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. Photographer Francesca Jones spent two years arranging her permission to stay on the island and was allowed to spend two weeks there working as a volunteer and photographing its inhabitants in 2015.

‘Home to roughly 25-30 permanent residents and a monastic order of 10 Cistercian monks, Caldey is classed as one of the Holy Islands of Britain and has a history spanning 1500 years. Lying 3 miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, Caldey is reachable by a 25 min boat trip. Home to diverse wildlife, rare fauna and rich in architectural history, the unique atmosphere and enchantment of the Island is almost tangible.’

Sea mist on Caldey's north shore, here the cliffs are 200ft.
Sea mist on Caldey’s north shore.

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Father Gildas is responsible for the laundry and is also the cook. He first came to Caldey in 1983.

‘Having first visited  as a child, I felt compelled to return driven by a long held fascination  about the people who choose Caldey as a home and the intricacies of life there.  I spent 2 weeks, working as a volunteer in the garden or helping with housekeeping in my spare time. Alongside this I was able to connect with and document some of the residents and monks, whilst having the time and space to discover the beauty and fragility of the island for myself.’

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Bethan, who was once a resident and pupil at the closed school house, works in the cafe. She lives on the mainland but travels to work by boat each day during the summer.

Dining hall of m monastery
Dining Hall of the monastery.

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Father Jan from Holland trained as a calligrapher and stone carver which he still practices in the Abbey workshop.

‘To be a resident on the island means to have a role; aiding the monastery to continue in it’s existence as well as supporting one another as a community. A practical disposition is a prerequisite as well as a resilient nature. The residents who stay the longest are the ones who are in possession of an ability to adapt to and embrace the unpredictable nature of the environment. Winters can be harsh and prolonged. In 2014, the cargo boats were unable to sail for 7 weeks leaving the residents cut off from the mainland and destructive storms caused massive coastal damage and severe flooding.’

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John has lived on the island with his wife Veronica for 40 years and is the commerce manager. He is also the point of contact for Trinity House regarding the island lighthouse which was build in 1829 and was powered by gas until 1997.

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Brother Titus, who is the guest master, holds discussions with his guests in the monastic library.

Brother Luca is the accountant and gardener.
Brother Luca is the accountant and gardener.

‘I endeavoured to learn about the human experience of living on Caldey; the frameworks to which daily lives adhere to, interactions with one another and how the population inhabit their environment. Although, to the outside world, it can appear an isolated place, many people I encountered expressed an overriding sense of freedom. I learned that the population are linked by a common desire; one of a simpler and more spiritual existence.’

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Father Daniel is the Abbot and the baker. Shortbread from the Abbey is sold in the shop.

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Rita is also the organist.
Rita is a resident of Caldey for over 35 years and lives alone in a bungalow just outside the village. Although long retired she still oversees the management of the water supply and is the organist.

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Access to ‘Sandtop’ was severely limited due to the storms in 2014 and is now accessible by rope.

Francesca Jones lives in Cardiff and works throughout the UK. She began working as a photographer’s assistant three years ago whilst working on her own projects and portfolio. 

Her work has been exhibited nationally as part of Portrait Salon 2014 as well as part of a group show at The Abacus in Cardiff. She was also a finalist in the 2013 Association of Photographers Awards and in January 2015 was selected to attend the Magnum Professional Practice in London. 

francesca-jones.co.uk
@FrancescaLJones

James O Jenkins