Monks, Mepkin and Mushrooms

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Fun in the sun was had on Saturday, but not at the beach. David and I went to a little town called Moncks Corner about thirty miles outside of Charleston to Mepkin Abbey. Established in 1949 after a land gift from Henry and Clare Booth Luce, these “Trappist” monks, as they are popularly known, are part of the worldwide Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The Cistercians themselves are part of a monastic tradition that was formalized in the 6th century. Later, in the 12th century, is when the Cistercians developed their own brand of the monastic life and then their traditions were renewed in the 17th century at the Norman abbey of La Trappe. Hence the “Trappist” name.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this when we embarked our “silver bullet,” more popularly known as a Saturn sedan, on Saturday morning at 10:30 am for the 11:30 am tour offered Tuesday through Saturday. A quick FYI here, after you stop at the Pig (Piggly Wiggly grocery store for all you Northerners and Westerners) for fifteen minutes, it takes more than forty-five minutes to get to Mepkin Abbey. This is especially true if rely on the directions from the Abbey’s website. My advice, use a good GPS device (not the one on your phone) or print out directions from Google Maps. Other than this small snafu though, we had a great visit.

We arrived at 11:55 and entered the visitor center and were told we had five minutes to get to the church to observe the Sext or Midday Prayer.

After heading down some paved and dirt paths, we found what we thought was the church, opened the door and were relieved to find that we had arrived just in time. This prayer did not last very long but the church’s simple design provided some great acoustics for the brothers’ deep voices.

After the Sext, we followed the group back to the welcome center and now had some time to observe our surroundings.

This is the Clare Boothe Luce Library. Though the tours (both the 11:30am tours and the 3:00 pm tours offered Tuesday through Sunday) do not include the interior of this building, the booklet you are given with your $5.00 ticket has a great photo of the interior. The tiles, wood-beamed ceilings, and color schemes present in the church also make up the interior of this magnificent structure.

There are currently about 20 brothers living at Mepkin Abbey. When the brothers pass away, they are buried on the Abbey grounds at the top of this gentle slope.

The Tower of the Seven Spirits. It stands fifty feet and houses four bells that sound C, D, E, F and G and are rung at certain times during the day. It is named the Tower of the Seven Spirits “to give voice to the coummunitites of the people who lived on the Mepkin land and who are interred [t]here: The Indians, the Henry Laurens Family, the African Americans who worked the land, the Henry Luce Family, the friends of the Abey in the “secular” cemetery, the monastic community in glory, and the monks who still remain on the earthly journey” (according to the Mepkin Abbey Monastery Guidebook).

Once back at the visitor center, our docent kindly spent some time with the late arrivers, uh, that would be us, and answered a few of our questions. I was curious about the chickens the brothers used to have and she explained that yes, the brothers used to raise chickens for eggs but due to aging equipment and a brew-ha-ha with PETA, they now grow Oyster mushrooms. After some additional questions about the grounds she pointed us in the direction of the gardens and we set off.

We did not have too far to walk and quickly came upon the beautiful gardens.

The area was covered with these beautiful oak trees, you know how I like my trees, and other fabulous flora and fauna.

We found the cemetery where several family members of prior land owners are interred.

There is magnificent view from the grave site of neatly manicured and terraced lawn areas that lead to the Cooper river.

After walking the length of the terraces, you arrive down at the water to see for yourself the Cooper River.

Making our way back up along the other side of the terraced gardens, we then encountered two carvings that can leave you somewhat breathless with their size, artistry and the ages old story they tell.

Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus.

Jesus on the cross with the ladies who were present and a Roman soldier standing watch.

We slowly left these two magnificent carvings and made our way back to the visitor’s center. We stopped into the store one final time to take advantage of the AC and to buy some of the Oyster Mushrooms (you can also buy them at the Pig) and some compost that the brothers sell for two dollars a bag. Happy with our purchases and our tour, we embarked the Silver Bullet once again and headed for home.

If you want to visit Mepkin Abbey during the day, click here. Or, you can also go on retreat at Mepkin Abbey. There are no lectures or classes. You are able to use the time as you like and are welcome to attend all prayer services and eat in a dining room adjacent to the brothers’ dining area. There is no set fee as the brothers do not want to turn anyone away but a donation is appreciated if one is able. Oh, and as a retreatant, you can use the Library!

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About Southern Adventuress

Transplant from California now living in Charleston, South Carolina after getting married in September 2010 to a Southerner. Join me as I reinvent my house on a strict budget, navigate the streets of my city; meet the challenges of pet ownership; and delve into education after institutional learning.

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