At the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, guests can explore the history of monasticism and experience its ongoing life. The Monastic Heritage Center and a café are adjacent to a barn that served as the monks’ home and chapel while they built the monastery and abbey church. Now a museum, the barn contains interactive exhibits tracing the life of the Conyers monastery from its founding in 1943 to the present. It features original woodwork and beautiful tall stained glass windows handcrafted by the monks.
Originally an outgrowth of the Trappist monk settlement in Gethsemani, Kentucky, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is the only monastery in Georgia. There, the Cistercians of the Strict Observance community follows the “Rule” (a plan of life) established by Saint Benedict integrating prayer and work. Part of Saint Benedict’s Rule is offering hospitality to others. The monks believe that when they welcome guests, they welcome Christ.
The monastery is self-supporting. The monks at Holy Spirit create many of the wares available at a large gift shop. Shoppers can purchase monk-made fruitcake, fudge, stained glass, and biscotti, as well as sculpted bonsai trees, hand-crafted jewelry, pasta, condiments, and bread. There’s also an extensive selection of religious books, DVDs, decorative home furnishings, and religious items. Within the shop, you can also find permanent displays of original illuminated manuscript pages and sculptures. The monks manning the shop are happy to share the history of these items.
Outside, a short walk on the peaceful grounds leads to the world’s largest hand-poured Gothic design Catholic church. Over the years, the monks built the abbey church. Wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow they poured cement to raise each column less than an inch at a time. The breathtaking stillness of the church filled with light refracted by abstract purple, pink and blue glass windows soothes the mind and spirit. Visitors sit in silence, praying or meditating. At set times of day, the monks gather there for Mass and prayer. Visitors are welcome to participate, even to stay for a while at a retreat center adjoining the abbey church. Retreats may be directed or undirected, group or individual. Various themed retreats ranging from “Life After Loss” to “Contemplative Prayer” and “Writing and Journal Keeping” are offered throughout the year.
Visitors also may enjoy a prayer walk, meditative walk among a path line with magnolia trees, and a meandering stations of the cross trail in the woods bordering the lake. Part of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, the monastery grounds are adjacent to the Rockdale River Path Trail for hiking and biking.
Finally, if you seek an even longer stay in the restorative, peaceful atmosphere, you can make the monastery your final resting place. The monks run a “green” burial cemetery for those who want to be buried naturally, without casket or embalming. Simple natural stones may mark the gravesites. While the burial is in the same manner as monks who have gone to their eternal rest, it is available to people of all faiths or none. The monks do not provide burial ceremonies, but they pray for all those buried there. The Honey Creek Woodlands cemetery contains plants and trees native to the local ecosystem and is surrounded by conservation easements. It is not open to casual visitors, but only to friends and families of the deceased or those contemplating the purchase of a plot.
Whether your visit is short or forever, don’t miss this monastery if you are traveling near Atlanta!
Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers GA 30094 (a half hour east of Atlanta off of I-20 West), www.trappist.net, 770-483-8705