May 30, 1994 12:00 PM

THEY ROCK NOT, NEITHER DO THEY ROLE. Their raiment is not of the denim that is ripped. They know not the groupie nor the roadie, neither are they overmiked. Yet, though they will not tour, the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos walk among the blessed, for on their hands truly they have a hit album.

In fact, not since Soeur Sourire, the Singing Nun, went gold in 1963 with “Dominique” has there been such a clerical chart buster. Chant, a collection of Gregorian chants recorded in Latin by the monks over the last 20 years, went from being a surprise hit in Spain to being the fastest-selling classical record in history, with 2.2 million copies worldwide so far, and reached No. 5 on the U.S. pop charts last week.

Eerily packaged with Magritte-like renderings of floating monks and with ads that carry an ominous exhortation to “prepare for the millennium,” Chant is attracting an audience of 16-to 25-year-olds, and its unexpected success has alarmed the 36 Benedictines who live in a 12th-century monastery 150 miles north of Madrid.

“You must understand,” says Brother Miguel, “that we are monks, not rock stars. But we even found a photographer hiding in a tree with a huge telephoto lens trying to take pictures inside the monastery.”

So intense has been media interest that Father Clemente Serna, the abbot of Santo Domingo, has called a halt to press interviews. “We are simply monks who sing to pray better,” he says. Royalties will go to needy Third World countries and for overdue repairs to the monastery.

Although at least two other competing Gregorian chant albums have since gone on the market, there will be no follow-up hit from the monks of Santo Domingo. “It will be some time—probably quite a long time—” says Father Clemente, “before we make another record.”

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