Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

On a recent hiking excursion I found myself not too far from Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, and I'd been wanting to visit for a while. Although the interior spaces are closed during the current pandemic, it was a beautiful, relaxing, and meditative experience. 

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Just exploring the grounds, which are beautifully landscaped, was amazing. Near the entrance is the museum—their Monastic Heritage Center—a garden center, and a gift shop. There's a large directory/map at the front, which is an excellent orientation tool—it helped me fully explore, especially on an impromptu visit.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The gift shop is beautifully appointed and, when open, also features baked goods—including biscotti, fudge, and fruitcake—some of them baked by the resident monks. 

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Among the numerous trades practiced by the monks, their stained-glass creations—which began in 1957 when they designed and installed stained-glass in the Abbey Church—are today installed in institutions and homes around the globe. Be sure to check out the stained-glass Benefactor's Wall near the entrance where you'll see some familiar names.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I've not seen the Abbey Garden Center, but did get to see a number of bonsai, in their Bonsai Garden/Nursery. The monks at the Monastery have been crafting classical bonsai for more than 35 years and this was one of the first places in the Southeast to offer bonsai to the general public. In the Garden Center you can buy bonsai trees, pottery (pots and statues), and garden/gardening accessories

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I headed to the Abbey Church via the Prayer Walk, first pausing in the Memorial Plaza, at the center of which is a white marble statue of the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus.

This solemn, beautiful space was gifted by Mrs. Olga C. de Goizueta (who I wrote about recently). The Goizueta family is one of Atlanta's wonderfully generous philanthropic families—through The Goizueta Foundation—for which we're ever grateful. Olga, her husband Roberto, and their late four-year-old son Carlos Alberto (who passed in 1970), are memorialized here.

Along the Prayer Walk, on the way to the Abbey Church, is another space dedicated to contemplative prayer. Be sure to read the placard that informs you about St. Lutgarde (d. 1246), a Cistercian nun of a Monastery in Belgium. She was blind the last 11 years of her life and is the patron saint of the blind.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The Abbey Church, constructed more than 70 years ago, is of Cistercian art and architecture, specifically designed to "discourage emotional, irrational reactions and to encourage a sense of composure", which is clean and stripped of unnecessary distractions thus creating a space for contemplative prayer and meditation.

While some may consider the design simplistic, I think it's beautiful and certainly inviting. I look forward to exploring the inside during a future visit, especially to see the stained-glass windows.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Just outside the entrance to the Abbey Church is a replica of a Madonna and Child statue at All Hallows College in Dublin, Ireland. That school closed in 2016, but its buildings continue to serve as another educational institution. The statue here was a gift of Monsignor P.J. O'Connor (1902-1980). 

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Enjoy exploring the grounds. There are delightful surprises here and there. Not so many that your contemplative state is disrupted, but enough to spark a measure of joy.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I did not know about Monastery Lake. I saw a couple meandering along a path through a wooded area (to the right of the Abbey Church if looking at the front). I found an different path to explore and it quickly became evident that it was part of the Monastery complex, given away by the "Stations of the Cross" along the waterfront pathways.

I came across a flock of Canadian Geese bathing themselves one the edge of the lake and there are quite a few picnic tables and benches here, too—quite peaceful.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I've saved my personal favorite space for last. And it was the last place I went when I visited. The entrance isn't marked, but I knew that it was there because I'd seen it on the directory at the entrance to the complex. 

The Magnolia Lane Meditative Walk is exactly that—meditative. 

I've loved Magnolia Trees all my life, so this was extra special to me. These tress are "ancient"...they're so tall! There were still some blooms when I visited in early July, a while after I thought they'd have finished—another special treat. There's a small gazebo along the Walk, dwarfed by the towering Magnolias. It was at the end of the Walk—one way in, one way out—where I got this photo where the trees seemingly engulf you and the sky. It was a gorgeous day.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Check out their website for the fascinating history of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. I had no idea, but the first Trappist monks came to Georgia in 1844, from Kentucky, to build a Monastery, when the area's Catholic population consisted of one family!

Now is a great time to visit the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and you can do so knowing that when you visit again, when they've re-opened to the public, you'll have another equally wonderful visit.