BERRYVILLE — The monks of Holy Cross Abbey have lived near Berryville for 66 years, and in almost every way, and in the ways that matter most, they live as monks have for centuries. They pray seven times a day, eat simple meals, work, meditate and take time for spiritual reading, study and personal prayer. Though their lives are simple, the monks recognize their responsibility to care for what they have in order to make it welcoming to the community and sustainable for future generations.
The church at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Cross is currently being renovated to enhance its interior beauty and better accommodate visitors. Renovation of the small church began in October and it expected to be complete by the end of January, said Kurt Aschermann, adding, “It’s going to be quite beautiful.”
The new interior was designed by Winchester-based Design Concepts. Howard Shockey & Sons, also based in Winchester, is the contractor. The church redesign maintains the Cistercian ideal of simplicity and beauty. It also preserves a degree of separation between guests and the cloistered monks.
During the renovation, a long-forgotten stained-glass window was discovered behind shutters above the entrance. Aschermann said even though such a window is not in keeping with the monks’ austere life, the monks decided to keep it and keep it uncovered.
The Chapter Room is being used for services and prayer while the church is being renovated. Ordinarily, Aschermann said, the Chapter Room is used by the monks for business and is never seen by the public. After the renovation, the room will again be reserved for private matters.
Holy Cross Abbey at Cool Spring Farm — in eastern Clarke County — represents almost 1,200 acres of land along the Shenandoah River that is protected by conservation easement. The Battle of Cool Spring was fought there in July 1864. The monks moved to the Cool Spring Farm in 1950 after their former home, the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Valley Falls, R.I., burned to the ground. Presently, there are 13 monks at Holy Cross Abbey. At times there have been as many as 60. “They are cloistered, so they don’t leave the property. They come here to pray and will live here all their lives,” Aschermann said.
To ensure the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Cross and Cool Spring Farm survive and thrive in the 21st century, the monks reached out to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment in 2009, asking how the property could be more environmentally sustainable. A year later, graduate students, who made the project their master’s thesis, produced a 400-page study. The monks immediately began to implement recommendations. To protect the health of the Shenandoah River, they asked the cattle farmer to whom they lease land to stop the cattle entering the river. This protects the banks from eroding and keeps the cows from polluting the water. The monks fenced off river tributaries, planted native species to attract pollinators and leased almost 200 acres to an organic vegetable farmer. The property was put into conservation easement, meaning the land will remain agricultural and undeveloped.
Source: The Winchester Star, by Cathy Kuehner