Ah, Gethsemani

Longtime readers will know that I have great affection for Thomas Merton and have spent some memorable, meaningful hours at the place he called home for half of his life, the Abbey of Gethsamani, in Kentucky.  Below is a favorite shot, from several years ago: Your Humble Blogger on the front porch of Merton’s hermitage.

While Merton’s presence at Gethsemani changed the place radically — and his royalties have given it a steady revenue stream for decades — less well-known is the history of the abbey before Merton took up residence.

Now, Pat McNamara has cracked open a window to the fascinating story of Gethsemani’s early days:

In 1948, the book world’s surprise hit was The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography of a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton. That year also marked the centennial of his monastery, Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey. Over the next few years, Merton’s writings would attract unprecedented numbers of applicants to the monastery. As the year closed, Merton praised “the great sea of graces that was flowing down on Gethsemani.”

But during the abbey’s early years, its survival seemed doubtful. Lack of funds and vocations, natural disasters and scandals threatened to end America’s first Trappist experiment. (The first three abbots all resigned.) Merton himself notes, “The devil . . . has spent a hundred years trying to interfere with Gethsemani—and in the early days the battle was not altogether to his disadvantage.”

It’s a great yarn.  Check it out.


  1. Paul Stokell says:

    A piece Merton wrote for the Trappist order, The Waters of Siloe, does a good job of this as well. His account in the book of the Trappist martyrs during the French Revolution is especially chilling.

Leave a Comment