Mepkin Abbey – Moncks Corner, South Carolina
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The abbey rests on 7,000 acres. The land was originally granted to the sons of Sir John Colleton, a Lord’s Proprietor and cousin of fellow Lord’s Proprietor George Monck (for whom Monck’s Corner is named), in 1681. By the eighteenth century, it became the rice plantation of Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, succeeding John Hancock.
In 1936 the property was purchased by publishing magnate Henry Luce of Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated magazines. Under their ownership, Luce and his wife, Clare Booth Luce, added several outbuildings and formal gardens, giving the grounds and buildings the modern, manicured look they bear today.
Mrs. Luce was well known in her own right. She served as our nation’s first female ambassador. A a prominent conservative, she also served in the US House of Representatives, and in addition, she was the author of numerous plays and two books. Though they primarily lived in Washington DC, Mr. and Mrs. Luce are both buried at Mepkin Abbey, alongside her mother and daughter. The remains of Henry and John Laurens rest here as well.
Mrs. Luce converted to Roman Catholicism in 1946. Three years later, she donated Mepkin to the monks of Gethsemani Abbey of Kentucky, who belong to the Order of Cistercians but are better known as Trappists monks. The monastery has operated here since the 1960s.
The monks live a life centered around prayer and quiet meditation. They also work to support themselves and the abbey primarily by cultivating and selling mushrooms to local stores and restaurants. The mushroom farm replaced an egg farm that was phased out in 2007 after a controversy regarding the monks’ treatment of chickens was institgated by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Though the monks denied any mistreatment, they agreed to cease egg production, stating the highly-publicized controversy was disruptive to their monastic lifestyle.
The monks’ work is not solely centered around mushroom cultivation, however. They are responsible for maintaining the abbey, including landscaping, cleaning, and putting books away in their vast library. Hospitality is also a large part of life at Mepkin Abbey. Many visitors of all faiths come here to seek guidance or simply to take time for private reflection.
Christian art adorns the gardens of Mepkin Abbey, and the above image shows a wood carving created by David Drake, nephew of the late Brother Laurence. The carvings are made of fallen live oak trees (Quercus virginiana) which were toppled during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
The monastary’s church, not yet pictured, is a modern design based on 12th-century architecture. The Cistercian Reform Church employs austerity and simplicity in its buildings, hoping to allow the focus to remain on God rather than ornate distractions.
Here, the church was built with three elements in mind: natural light, which enters the room through several highly-placed windows; natural materials, such as red oak furniture, yellow pine found in the roofing, and quarry-tiled floors; and balanced proportions which mimic the 9′ 6″ grid of many medieval buildings.
The abbey also hosts a festival of creches, or nativity scenes, each Christmas season. Artful creches from all over are on display for visitors to appreciate. People can even vote for their favorites! There is a gift shop at the abbey that sells a variety of items, from books on monastic traditions to their famous compost.
Historical Pictures of Mepkin Abbey
This picture shows Mepkin as it looked while owned by the Clare and Henry Luce. The photo was taken in 1938.
More Pictures of Mepkin Abbey
Reflections on Mepkin Abbey
Photographer Tom Haines of North Charleston sends us his memories of capturing his image above: “My second visit to the Abey. First time I discovered this little gem of a cemetery. Interesting grave markers which portray early residents. No one else on the grounds! Very hot day as I recall….”
Mepkin Abbey Info
Address: 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks Corner, SC 29461
GPS Coordinates: 33.116202,-79.953151
Mepkin Abbey Map
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