Saturday, August 17, 2013

Gethsemani, the Visitor's Center

There is a new Visitor's Center at Gethsemani. I didn't notice it when I was here last year (Pentecost 2012) but I think it has been here for awhile, at least a couple of years. I almost passed it by this year as well, but for a call of nature. The gift shop is typical, nothing special, but the rest of the center is very worthwhile.

There is a good little film about the Trappist life, and Gethsemani in particular, made by Louisville film maker, Morgan Atkinson. In the film the monks acknowledge that their lives are for us.

There is a room with many photos of the monks and quotes from them and others about the nature of contemplative life.

I was glad that the center didn't focus on Merton at all. He was just a monk among many here.

A statue of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the best known and most influential Cistercian of all time, is there to greet you at the entrance:

Born into a knightly family in 1090, he entered Citeaux at the age of twenty two, bringing with him a group of thirty relatives and friends whom he had previously convinced to join him in leading a more serious Christian life.  At the time of Bernard's entry, Citeaux was beginning to grow and had just made its first foundation (La Ferte, 1113).  The influx of this large group made further expansion possible, and, in 1115, Bernard was chosen to lead Citeaux's fourth foundation, Clairvaux. 
An inspired teacher and a consummate artist with words, Bernard is known as the "last of the Fathers" and a Doctor of the Church.  His own monastery so prospered under his leadership that, at the time of his death in 1153, Clairvaux had made sixty-eight foundations. 
Bernard's field of activity gradually expanded beyond his own abby, and he found himself involved - for better or worse - in theological controversies and ecclesiastical and political affairs.  Among his monks and in his public life Bernard was considered a saint in his own lifetime.  He was canonized in 1174 and officially proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1830.

These monks carry a profound legacy.   

I love the stillness that permeates everything at Gethsemani.  I come away changed, knowing the world from a much quieter and simpler place. I love seeing the monks here, living their hidden prayer-lives. Sometimes I wake up in the early morning hours and think of them singing their psalms in the early darkness and I know that we are not all going to hell in a hand basket, despite the news. Life is holy.


  1. Thanks so much for bringing us with you on this virtual tour..

    Through Thomas Merton's writings, Gethsemani must probably be the most famous of all Cistercian communities - something I think Merton would find both amusing and horrifying in almost equal measure!

    It's great that their gift shop sees no need to exploit this.

    And I appreciate your potted history of Bernard - I get the details of monastic saints rather easily muddled...

    1. The history of Bernard was written on a board behind the statue.

      Yes, I expect that the visitor's center was a result of all the interest that Merton brought to the monastery and a way to accommodate those visitors. It's nice to see the way the monks are so graciously handling the hospitality and using the visitor center to explain their way of life. I expect that many people have no exposure to this sort of life in the West. Our monasteries tend to be hidden and quiet.

      I agree about how Merton would be both horrified and amused.

  2. Maybe, just maybe, some day I will be able to go there as well. Hm...
    Thank you, Beth :-)

  3. my 2Cents
    is that a hand basket i see !!!
    O my
    not to fret all hand-baskets go to Heaven or at worst Goodwill -

    i have been to Gethsemane its about a two hour drive
    from where i live in Tennessee -- have lived in Holy Ghost monastery Conyers Ga. about 3 weeks
    working on some stain glass windows and a few retreats lived in a Benedictine monastery
    about 3 years and a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in India 6 months -
    you are correct monasteries are both horrifying and amusing it is my take
    that they have always been so - as for monastic saints St Bernard preached one of
    the unsuccessful Crusades that got a bunch of people killed off he adopted
    the rule of St Benedict to create the order of the Knights Templar's and added
    a red cross to the Cistercian habit, the KT order has a problematic history in its self -
    i think the past history of the Cistercian order did not sit well with Merton and
    it shows up at times in writings -

    Blessings ----------- enjoy your postings

    1. Thanks for 2 cents. That's interesting about the Knights Templar. Sounds very much like the CHristian neocons of today. Hard to get away from that kind of darkness, which seems to infect us throughout history. Even Bernard, apparently.

      I don't mean to be glorifying monastic life. I've heard some pretty horrendous stories of things that go on there, like everywhere.

    2. Just read more about KT and Bernard. You're right, it's a problematic history, hard to understand outside of the context of medieval times, yet still seems to riddle present times.



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