This was an off the beaten path adventure. I had seen this monastery featured on a Netflix film about food. (Michael Pollen’s “Cooked”) We have a history of visiting quirky monasteries on our travels, from the Monastery in the Desert in NM to the Camoldolese convent in Rome.
This one was not too far off of our route. My cousin Mary Lou wanted to go, so we picked her up in Scarsdale and set out to find the cloistered Benedictine monastery in Connecticut.
On the way we stopped off at the Good News Cafe in Woodbury for lunch. I recommend this!
… and then we found our way to the Abbey of Regina Laudis.
I knew that this monastery was for cloistered Benedictine nuns, that it wasn’t a tourist attraction. I wanted to respect that decision for privacy, solitude and quiet. But I also knew that these nuns were hospitable and open to visitors. I’m a little thrown by the “grill” that separates the nuns from the populace, but I also believe that they need us as much as we need them. They live apart from us but amidst us, a visible contrast to the hustle and busyness — or humdrum — of life.
We were definitely off the beaten path, finding ourselves first at the “creche”. I had read beforehand that this was open most of the time, so even though the 1st sign said closed, we ventured forth to the white barn-like building.
Whoa! Inside this barn we found a dramatic scene of the Nativity, an 18th Century Neapolitan creche. The 68 figures (and 20 animals) represent the many different ways that humanity responds to the mystery of the Incarnation: wonder, awe, disbelief, indifference, annoyance … You can read more about it here. The barn is specially air conditioned to protect and preserve the art.
From here we stumbled around a bit while finding our way to the main monastic area and art store amid weathered barns, animals, creative sculptures and landscapes.
Many, many metal sculptured sheep around. (The brightness of the day kept me from being able to capture the subtle aliveness and personalities of these sheep.)
The lay oblate at the art store told us that there were 38 professed nuns there now. We did see a few, hiking up their (almost) full habits to drive tractors and pickup trucks. They look young, strong, and healthy to me. John noticed their thick leather belts. Some wore the full headdress of the habit, others had only a kerchief on their heads. I did not photograph any of them because, you know, they are cloistered and I wanted to respect that. There are definitely artists amongst them. They must all be artists in some way to have chosen this life. There is much beauty and peace here, artful placement of rocks and flowers. A silence that emanates from the land. Also a bold use of the color, red, in places.
From here we had to drive to the main church. Oh my, what a visual of light, art, color, flowers, rock …
Again, the grill, but again, so artfully done.
And again, the sheep, this time a mother looking over her newborn.
But the most surprising thing, for me, was looking out the window of the church and seeing, tucked back in the woods, the Blessed Mother, sitting in a meditative silence.
When I told my rather conservative Catholic nephew about this statue he looked a bit incredulous and asked, “were these real nuns?”. Indeed.
And more sheep.