05 December 2010

St. Anselm's Abbey

I visited St. Anselm’s Abbey a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been far too busy with school work to write about it. I’m glad I’m doing it now, because it was such a wonderful experience. I asked my friend Kate to pick the church that week, and she chose St. Anselm’s. St. Anselm’s is a small monastery on the very northeastern edge of Washington, D.C. It was not particularly easy to get to, but I trekked over there with Kate, her friend Richard, and John one of GW’s FOCUS missionaries.

The abbey was a 40-acre property which was beautiful on a mid-November morning. The church was actually one of the smaller buildings on the campus. It was a tiny brick building that looked like it couldn’t hold more than 40 or 50 people. There was a wooden roof and some brilliant stained glass, which lit the church beautifully as the sun started to shine through. The monks were seated in front of the congregation, facing each other, with the priest and the altar in the very rear. A crucifix was hung from the ceiling near the middle of the building; I thought it was interesting because the vertical and horizontal parts of the cross were of the same length. The whole thing felt very much like an old Protestant church in rural England. I learned later that the Benedictines, who built St. Anselm’s, are an order that hails from Scotland.

            The mass was very low-key, but I thought that was perfect for such a peaceful setting. One of the brothers served as a cantor, accompanied by a small organ. He wasn’t a particularly good singer, but I don’t think any of the monks were. Each week, the monks who have been ordained as priests (the “Brothers” who are also “Fathers”) trade off leading the Sunday services. This week was Father Phillip’s turn. He talked about our concept of time, particularly the “end times.” He said that since, according to God, history ended at the crucifixion, we are really living in the “end times.” He said that the “end times” could be quiet and peaceful, like the feeling of waking up on Christmas morning.

            After Mass, John, Kate, Richard and I talked to Father Phillip and asked him to show us around the grounds. After taking some time to start preparations for the day’s lunch, he took us around for about two hours! I was particularly impressed with the numerous historical artifacts of the Abbey. He showed us furniture from the Middle Ages, a first edition of a book by Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus, and my personal favorite, a bunker constructed on the property to defend Washington, D.C. during the Civil War era. I eagerly climbed over a fallen tree to get into the ditch where the bunker was located, nearly causing Father Phillip to have a heart attack. Father Phillip also showed us the small cemetery where monks and friends of the monastery were buried. It was beautiful to see men buried in the same area where they had committed so much of their lives. In such a peaceful wood, it was hard to imagine that I was still in Washington, D.C. 



Civil War-Era Bunker

Shrine to Mary

Latin Inscription "His Mercy Is To Those Who Fear Him"

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