Thursday, October 31, 2019

Our Monastery

We recently received an account of the Abbot General's summer visit to our monastery written by his secretary, our Father Simeon. We include this excerpt: 
A cursory visit to the St Joseph’s Abbey website and its photos should confirm for you that it is one of the most beautiful monasteries in America.  What is astounding is the fact that it was built at record speed between 1950 and 1952, mostly by the physical labor of the monks themselves.  At that time these were very numerous and generally very young, as well as full of good zeal and enthusiasm.  The then abbot, Dom Edmund Futterer, himself an artist of impeccable taste, very much believed in the Beautiful as an efficacious path to God.  Therefore, in consultation with other monks in the community who had a knowledge of monastic art and history, such as Fr Laurence Bourget and Br Blaise Drayton, Dom Edmund decided upon a design for a monastery that would at the same time be inspired by the stark, transcendental beauty of 12th-century Cistercian abbeys in France and yet also be a truly American recasting of that traditional style. 

The jewel-like beauty of Spencer Abbey speaks for itself.  Here the materials—for the walls, only hand-picked Spencer field stones—are most happily wedded to great simplicity of form, and the first impression of opulence is continually tempered by a certain contemplative restraint that imposes silence. 
The abbatial church in particular is a place of transport.  It is dark, though this darkness was not in the original design.  The walls of the church were only rising when the Abbot General of the time, the indomitable Dom Gabriel Sortais, on a brief visit to Spencer, saw the blueprints and decided on the spot that the existing design was “too grand for poor monks” and that, therefore, the whole level of the clerestory (the gallery of windows around the upper reaches of the church) should be eliminated!  And so it was. 
This omission not only deprived the church of perhaps eighty percent of its source of light, but the much lower ceiling that resulted also affected the resonance of the chant.  However, many welcome the “mystical gloom” reigning in the church when all lights are off, finding that it leads to a special kind of prayer.  In addition, the intense Chartres blue of the stained-glass windows at ground level, as well as the blue of the high windows of the triumphal arch over the sanctuary, can now cast a wonderfully soothing glow that would have been impossible with more illumination.