This past weekend Brent took some pictures of a Trappist Monastery for a local magazine, and I excitedly went along for the ride. A 1947 monastery on the backside of the beautiful Wasatch Mountains? – Who wouldn’t want to go! Though the landscape was still wearing the drab grays and tans of winter, the area was still beautiful. The valley was surrounded on all sides by mountain silhouettes. I can only imagine how gorgeous everything will look in another month.
The Monastery, Abbey of our Lady of the Holy Trinity, sits on the outskirts of Huntsville, a little town bordering the beautiful Pineview Reservoir. The monastery is surrounded by farmland and a slew of small, family-owned ranches. In the earlier days of the monastery monks used to farm the land and run a successful beehive. As the age of the monks increased their manual labor decreased, and they’ve since phased out the farming and bees all together.
A small bookstore is positioned out front and provides visitors with religious books and tokens. When we arrived we were greeted by Father Leander, a patient and soft-spoken man with a slight limp and large frame. For 37 years this particular monastery has been his home, but believe it or not he’s one of the ‘newer monks.’ Most of the others have been there even longer. Of the 15 monks currently living at the facility, 11 of them are over 80 years old. Sometimes it was hard to tell if we were walking around a religious sanctuary or a geriatrics ward. But they were all very sweet, kind, and accommodating.
Brent and I were given the grand tour. (Behind the scenes in a way I almost didn’t expect.) We saw where the monks eat, sleep, worship, study, make food, sew clothes and organize laundry, transcribe ancient chants and bind small worship books, care for the sick, and host small groups of worshipers. We tried to be as reverent and respectful as possible, while still allowing Brent to get the images he came for.
While I spotted a few computers throughout our tour, most of them were older models that looked very rarely used. Only Father Leander, who diligently and carefully transcribes the chants into Gregorian format, uses a computer on a somewhat regular basis. The elevator was only installed 12-15 years ago, out of necessity for an aging majority I imagine. (Currently the youngest monk is 62.) It was interesting to see the simplistic way in which they lived their lives, melding a little of the new (computers, elevators, cushy black shoes) with the tradition and age of the old (simple tunic robes, worn leather belts, ancient scripts).
While walking the halls we were also introduced to Brother David, a spunky middle-aged man with a round belly and balding head that reminded me instantly of Friar Tuck. We shook hands and I introduced myself. When he heard my name he just stopped and stared at me, still holding my hand for a very long 4 or 5 seconds. He looked like he was transported somewhere else, and when he withdrew his hand he apologized and said, “I almost married a Camellia before I joined the monastery, and I haven’t met one since. A whole other life of memories just came flooding back.” It was a very poignant moment.
A cross was visible in every room, including the elevator. Vitamins and medication were at every place setting in the dining room, and glasses framed almost every bald head. Several of the monks used walkers to help maneuver the darkened hallways, and muffled conversations came from behind closed doors. The monks come together 7 times a day to chant and pray. For the most part it was quiet and calm during our visit. Father Leander often mentioned those who’d passed away, or been moved to special assisted living facilities and rehabilitation centers. It’s hard to believe that once they’re all gone, so is the monastery. We were told in preparation of our visit that the monastery will most likely be closed in another 8 years.
We feel very honored to have been given such a rare glimpse into the daily life of these devout and charitable men. See more of Brent’s photos here.