Mepkin Abbey – Moncks Corner, South Carolina
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Mepkin Abbey is home to a community of Roman Catholic monks who have lived, prayed, and worked on the site of the historic Mepkin Plantation located along the Cooper River in Moncks Corner since the 1949.
The abbey rests on 7,000 acres of former rice fields once known as Mepkin Plantation. The land was 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 and Life magazines. Under their ownership, Luce and his wife, Clare Booth Luce, added several outbuildings and formal gardens, giving the grounds and buildings the modern and manicured look they bear today.
It was always Mrs. Luce’s desire to donate the property to the monks of Gethsemani Abbey of Kentucky, who belong to the Order of Cistercians. They are better known as Trappists monks. Since 1949 the Trappists have owned this property, and since the 1960s the monastery has operated here.
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 and institgated by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The monks denied any mistreatment but agreed to cease egg production, stating the highly-publicized controversy was disruptive to their monastic lifestyle.
Christian art adorns the gardens of Mepkin Abbey, and above and below are wood carvings created by David Drake, nephew of a now-ceased monk known to all as Brother Laurence. The carvings are made of fallen live oak trees (Quercus virginiana) that were toppled during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
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 also a gift shop at the abbey that sells a wide variety of items, from books on monastic traditions to their famous compost.
The church, whose symbolic spire is seen rising through the trees in the below photo, is a modern design based on 12th-century architecture. The Cistercian Reform church utilized austerity and simplicity in its church buildings, allowing 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 that mimic the 9′ 6″ grid of many medieval buildings.
The monastery’s labor hours aren’t always centered around mushroom cultivation. The monks are responsible for maintaining the abbey, so there is always work to be done, such as yard work, cleaning, or putting books away in their vast library.
Hospitality and sharing their spiritual journey is also a large part of life at Mepkin Abbey. Many visitors of all faiths come here to seek guidance or time for private reflection.
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Address: 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks Corner, SC 29461
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