It was probably Wednesday, February 15th, that Father Linsky recommended Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, historical fiction set in 12th Century England. I know that because I see that is the day I ordered it from Amazon for my Kindle. At the time he made the recommendation, the focus was on what can be learned about the financing and building of the 12th century cathedrals, but the book also gives insights into monastery life in that century.
Pillars of the Earth is the first of a trilogy. The second, World without End, is set in the same town in 14th Century England. There is more building, more daily life, more monastery insights, and The Black Death. And there is evidence that the folks are getting a little smarter, that the light at the end of that Dark Ages tunnel is being seen by some. The final book is due out this fall, and I will have to read it. If you decide to tackle them, be warned that they are about a thousand pages each and filled with gory details, abundant misbehavior, and a few virtuous characters.
There is also a Follette trilogy covering the twentieth century, and I am on the third of those. Mr. Follette has eaten up a lot of my discretionary time in the past five months.
Giving Mr. Follette the benefit of the doubt on his historical accuracy, I believe these books can help us understand how monastery life was critically important to preserving and passing along the faith through those dark centuries. And, they can help us better understand the tradition that is continued at Mepkin Abbey.
Books have been written on the topics we discussed briefly this morning: St. Anthony, St. Benedict, Desert Fathers, Trappists, monasticism in general, etc. So, I’m not going to write any essays on the subject but have looked up some good links for further edification in case any Men’s Prayer Group participants are in search of such.
Trappist Monasteries in North America: There are twenty three, sixteen for Trappist Monks and seven for Trappist Nuns. Mepkin Abbey is the only one in South Carolina. Our Lady of the Holy Spirit is in Conyers GA, just this side of Atlanta. I went on a retreat there about 1982 with leadership of a Presbyterian Church of which I was a member. Karen and I have stopped by there on the way home from Atlanta. And, the Abbey of Gethsemane in Trappist, KY, was the home of Thomas Merton. Those are the three closest to Columbia.
Rule of St. Benedict (Online): I don’t expect anyone will dig too deeply into this but read the short Chapter 1 for an explanation of four kinds of monks and clear judgement of which ones are “detestable” and which ones are “in every way worse” than detestable.
Mepkin Abbey is worth a visit. Next time you head to Charleston, allow a couple of extra hours and drive through the country to Moncks Corner. You may want to make a reservation for a couple of nights there. Even if you aren’t going to Charleston, Mepkin is an easy day trip from here, especially by the back roads. The extra nineteen minutes is time well spent. I love that drive.
By the way, the phrase, “Pillars of the Earth,” is from Sacred Scripture.
1 Samuel 2:8 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
8 He raises the needy from the dust;
from the ash heap lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.
“For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and he has set the world upon them.