In the final analysis there is no other solution to man's progress but the day's honest work, the day's honest decision, the day's generous utterances, and the day's good deed.
--- Clare Boothe Luce.
...my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
--- Philippians 4:19.
Mepkin Abbey (formerly Mepkin Plantation) is home to twenty-one monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also known as Trappist. The abbey is situated on a bluff above the western
|Cooper River Bluff, Mepkin Plantation|
The area was originally settled by Native American tribes, mainly Kiawah. Wanting protection from their immigrant, cannibalistic Westoe neighbors, and the Spanish to the south, the Kiawah tribes welcomed the English.
As the English expanded their territories in North America, the Crown set up a system of Lords Proprietors to oversee them. Few Lords Proprietors, if any, ever set foot on their territories. The original Lords Proprietors of the Province of Carolina included:
- George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle (1608–1670)
- Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674)
- John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton (1602–1678)
- William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven (1608–1697)
- Sir George Carteret (c. 1610–1680)
- Sir William Berkeley (1605–1677)
- Sir John Colleton, 1st Baronet (1608–1666)
- Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (1621–1683).
|Joel Gascoyne, “A new map of the country of Carolina.” Ca. 1682. American Memory, Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/|
Proprietary Grants were often given to heirs of Lords Proprietors. The Mepkin Plantation site was part of such grants made to three of Sir John Colleton's sons: Peter, Thomas and James. Mepkin belonged to James Colleton. The plantation passed to James's son, John, then to John's son, John, Esq.
Lords Proprietors responsibilities included protecting the colonists from invasion. They didn't do a good job of it. The colonists had to defend themselves from French and Spanish troops, pirates and hostile tribes. The colonists complained and petitioned the Crown again and again to take over the administration, which it did, finally. The Crown purchased the interests of seven of the Lords Proprietors in 1729 for £22,500 - about what they had in them.
Carolina was declared a Royal Colony and assigned to Governors. Some Governors were grandsons or great-grandsons of Lords Proprietors. Sir John Colleton of Exmouth, Devon was named Governor.
No doubt the Colletons were noted for the day's honest work, the day's honest decision, the day's generous utterances, and the day's good deed. But tremendous accomplishment was also achieved by Sir James Colleton's Attorney and plantation manager, John Stuart. John gained land and wealth, and achieved much more, however he claimed that his boss, James Colleton wrongly took credit for many of his contributions.
In 1762, John Colleton, Esq. sold Mepkin, including the original 3,000 acres of the Proprietary Grant to Henry Laurens. Henry Laurens was an import/export merchant in Charleston. His business included the slave trade. He quit the import/export business in 1776 to become a planter and statesman.
The time was ripe. Laurens rose to positions of importance in the emerging nation. Elected to Minister to Holland by the Continental Congress in 1779, he set sail in 1780, but was captured en route by the British. Laurens was imprisoned in the Tower of London for fifteen months until being released prematurely in anticipation of a prisoner exchange to get Lord Cornwallis back. Cornwallis was returned a little later than expected.
|Laurens family cemetery.|
Henry left the plantation to his son, Henry. The latter sold Mepkin in 1916 to J.W. Johnson, Esq. Johnson left it to his daughter, Mrs. Nicholas G. Rutgers. Rutgers sold it in 1936 to Henry R. Luce and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce. The Luces enlisted noted American landscape architect Loutrel Winslow Briggs to design their gardens at Mepkin.
On January 11, 1944, Clare's nineteen-year-old daughter, Ann Clare Brokaw, a senior at Stanford University, was killed in an automobile accident. Her death devastated her mother. Seeking solace, Clare turned to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen for counseling. Clare Boothe Luce converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1946.
In 1949, the Luces contributed a large portion of Mepkin Plantation to the Church for use by the Trappists. Twenty-nine monks moved from Gethsemani, Kentucky to found the Abbey.
|St. Benedict of Nursia|
- Idleness is the enemy of the soul.Therefore the sisters should be occupied at certain times in manual labor, and again at fixed hours in sacred reading.
- ...then are they truly monastics when they live by the labor of their hands,as did our Fathers and the Apostles.
- The tenth degree of humility is that he be not ready and quick to laugh, for it is written, "The fool lifts up his voice in laughter" (Eccles. 21:23).
- Let us do what the Prophet says: "I said, 'I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. I have set a guard to my mouth.' I was mute and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things" (Ps. 38:2-3). Here the Prophet shows that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times to refrain even from good speech, so much the more ought the punishment for sin make us avoid evil words.
- Let all things be common to all, as it is written (Acts 4:32), and let no one say or assume that anything is his own.
- Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, "I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35). And to all let due honor be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.
If you don't see men in religious habits when you visit Mepkin Abbey, they might yet be working in plain sight. For example, you won't see someone mowing the lawn in a tunic, scapular and hood. Look, instead, for a man on a tractor in coveralls and cap. If not seen working in public, the monks are not idle.
The Trappists live by the work of their hands. Enterprises might include many things such as egg production, jam and jelly making or brewing. The monks at Mepkin Abbey grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms, operate a gift shop, sell books and art work, and provide a columbarium. Everything is reasonably priced, too, though I haven't inquired about the price of a niche in the Mepkin Columbarium. As St. Benedict ordered, The evil of avarice must have no part in establishing prices, which should, therefore, always be a little lower than people outside the monastery are able to set,” so that in all things God may be glorified.
While in the gift shop, I asked where we could find the Columbarium. I had heard about it before. The shopkeeper told me where to find it. He confided that "people are dying to be buried there." Keep in mind that St. Benedict didn't forbid laughter but discouraged quick laughter. I smiled in acceptance. That left me to wonder whether the shopkeeper was a Trappist monk, or just teasing me.
Except for possible lawn mowing, there is an air of silence at Mepkin. We only spoke to the gift shop attendant, and I wasn't sure he was a monk. Even at work, the monks only speak when necessary. There was no idle chatter. The silence enriched our experience.
There's no way a casual visitor would know for sure, but a friend of mine who retreated to Mepkin Abbey confirmed that, according to their Mission Statement, "all things are common to all" with the exception of a few simple, permitted items such as toothbrushes.
That brings me to the subject of hospitality. Christians worldwide have been known since their earliest history for hospitality, grace and mercy. The Trappists at Mepkin Abbey may receive you for a retreat at Mepkin Abbey if there are enough beds available. Men and women, husbands and wives are welcome, but will have to sleep apart.
If you want to become a retreatant at Mepkin Abbey, feel free to apply. Don't expect your life to be easy, full of leisure, mindless meditation, enjoying the beauty, sniffing the flowers and photographing while someone else works hard. You will, no doubt, experience the day's honest work, the day's honest decision, the day's generous utterances, and the day's good deed. Work hard at it. But, in the final analysis, ...my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
If you're scratching your noggin and wondering whether Monck's Corner, South Carolina was named for the monks at Mepkin Abbey, it was not. The place pertains to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, mentioned above.
Follow me now to see what grows behind the garden wall. Here are some of my photographs.
|St. Clare's Store and Gallery|
|Creche. Mepkin Abbey|
|Garden Walk. Mepkin Abbey|
|Holy Family. Mepkin Abbey|
|Camellia japonica. Mepkin Abbey|
|Holy Family. Mepkin Abbey|
|Garden Walk. Mepkin Abbey|
|Nandina, Crapemyrtle, Aucuba. Garden Walk. Mepkin Abbey|
|Creche. Garden Walk. Mepkin Abbey|
|Flight to Egypt. Mepkin Abbey|
|Columbarium. Mepkin Abbey|
|Pond Walk. Mepkin Abbey|
|Nancy Bryan Luce Garden. Mepkin Abbey|
|Live Oak Allee. Mepkin Abbey|
|Detail of Deposition of Christ. Mepkin Abbey|
The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
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