I recently had the pleasure of spending one day and night as a hermit at the new Hermitage at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. It was a wonderful experience of tranquility, prayer, and refreshment. The Hermitage was just completed as a cooperative effort between Catholic University of America architecture students and the monastery to build a place of peaceful retreat for a single person.
The Hermitage itself is what I would call a blend of Frank Lloyd Wright meets Thomas Merton’s cabin. It is a beautiful modern building set in a mature hardwood forest behind the monastery. The building is only 350 square feet, but offers all one needs to experience a modest and comfortable retreat. The modern building is built with green construction standards using energy efficiency, but still offering beautiful windows, good heating and cooling. The entire building is also handicapped accessible with thoughtful design in the kitchen and bathroom for wheelchair access. There is a cool table that was designed by students and cut by computer design to be used to dining, study, and prayer. The building faces East toward Jerusalem, and the side porch also faces East with beautiful views of the forest and fields behind the Monastery. The monastery supplies linens and towels, and the kitchen is stocked with all the cooking supplies with microwave and cooktop. They also had a nice assortment of coffee & tea. People who stay are requested to bring their own food, but there is an organic grocery store nearby.
The other amazing place to frequent during your retreat is the St. Francis Chapel just footsteps from The Hermitage. It is a chapel that you are given a key to enter and use as you please during your retreat–Wow your own private chapel. It is a beautiful brick chapel, and Brother Sebastian reports that it was built sometime in the 1920′s. There are about 42 acres of land behind the monastery that are beautiful grounds and trails filled with holy statues, grottos, gardens, greenhouses, cemetery, solar panels, and beehives. While I was there I had the pleasure of talking with the beekeeper as she was feeding the hives for the week with her homemade sugar cakes. You are also given a key to a large iron gate to rejoin the public side of the monastery and visit the church and grounds.
The Monastery itself offers daily Mass and Confessions, that are a blessing to have with your retreat experience. I was also honored to have a tour of the Monastery from Brother Thomas, who served many years in the Holy Land, and just celebrated his 80th birthday. It is amazing to walk among all the holy sites that are represented in the Holy Land, as well as the beautiful artwork of this byzantine style church. Please note you can click on images for a larger view.
Following is a video done at the dedication of the new Hermitage on September 17th:
The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land is in need of donations to continue their important work of guarding and maintaining the Holy Land Sites. The monastery also just launched their improved website. The majority of the Friars’ work is in Israel, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon, helping with evangelization, education, research, and charity. They have been appointed guardians of the Holy Land for the Roman Catholic Church, and have done so faithfully since 1342. The Monastery in Washington, DC, is a base for the order, and offers the public daily tours, and well as Mass and Confession. The Hermitage is the first one built, and three other unique designs have been designed by CUA architecture students, but await funding. I pray for the continued support of their ministry and I pray for peace in the Holy Land, and especially right now for peace between Israel and Palestinians.
The Monastery was just named as a pilgrimage site for the Year of Faith, and if you come and attend Mass and Confession you are granted a plenary indulgence. I highly recommend you come any time of year and you should put The Hermitage experience on your bucket list. You can find out more about the monastery and hermitage in the links below.