Mepkin Abbey, located on the banks of the Cooper River north of Charleston, South Carolina is, today, a community of Roman Catholic Trappist Monks established in 1949.
The property was at one time, Mepkin Plantation, owned by Henry Laurens (1723-1792), a merchant, slave trader and rice planter on the property. Laurens was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and succeeded John Hancock to be the second President of the Congress. During the Revolutionary War, Laurens was sent to the Netherlands as a diplomat but was captured at sea by the British, convicted of high treason, and spent 15 months in the Tower of London (not a nice place). Eventually he was swapped for Lord Cornwallis. When Henry Laurens died, his was the first cremation to take place in South Carolina and his ashes are interred on the Abbey grounds.
After Laurens' death the property passed through many hands until in 1911 it was purchased by the Rutgers family of New Jersey and then in 1936 it was sold to Henry and Clare Boothe Luce. Henry was the founder and publisher of Time, Life and Fortune Magazines. Clare Boothe was an author, Congresswoman from Connecticut, and Ambassador to Italy.
The property had fallen in to decay and the Luce's revitalized the plantation through architectural and botanic improvements. By the time they gave the land to the Roman Catholic Church for a monastic foundation in 1949, the Luce's had established a legacy for the monks to build on.
While at Mepkin, we strolled through some wonderful gardens, all installed by Clare Boothe Luce. Unfortunately, we missed the spring bloom season and all the color of the azaleas and were too early for the summer bloomers. However, the gardens were still lovely and peaceful.
We took a tour led by Al, a volunteer docent who was very knowledgeable about the property. As part of the tour we attended the monk's midday prayer. No pictures allowed.
Taken from Mepkin Abbey Garden Guide Book:
“The founding monks of Mepkin Abbey came from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. They belong to the order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance which traces it roots back to the motherhouse of Citeaux in Burgundy, France. The Trappist-Cistercian way of life is defined by a strict asceticism, a joyful spirituality embracing the deepest roots of the human person where thoughts and motives of the heart have their source, and through communal daily schedule which pursues continual prayer and mindfulness of God. At Mepkin, the brethren are engaged in mushroom cultivation, garden tending, nursery propagation, and timber farming.”
If you are ever in the Charleston area, it is well worth going out of your way to visit this quite, peaceful, thoughful place. Be sure that you are there by 11:30 for the tour.