Thomas Merton made Gethsemani Abbey almost a byword in American Catholic life, but this Trappist abbey has a rich history that long predates Merton’s arrival in December of 1941. It’s the oldest continually operating Roman Catholic monastery in the United States. The Trappists are a branch of the Cistercians, a monastic order founded by St. Robert of Molesme in 1098. Their official name is Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.). In 1848 the Trappist Abbey of Notre Dame de Melleray in France sent a group of monks to America, where they established the Abbey of Our Lady of Getshemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. (There had been an earlier unsuccessful attempt to establish an American foundation in the years following the French Revolution.) Seen here are some photos of the abbey as they appeared in a 1914 book titled The Catholic Church in the United States:
Seen above is Gethsemani College, a school for lay students that was attached to the monastery from 1851 until it was burned down in 1912. The monks decided it wasn’t worth resurrecting as it was not strictly within the scope of the Trappist vocation. The above photo of the monastic community dates back to the year 1904. Note the various habits the monks are wearing!Seen above are the grounds of the monastery, the walkway between the college and the monastery.The above photo shows the grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes on the abbey grounds.
Here are some interior shots of the monastery. Above is the charter room, where the monks publicly proclaimed their faults to one another.Seen above is the monastery cloister, replete with Stations of the Cross. The above photo shows the monastery chapel. Based on the presence of the trees, this photo appears to have been taken during Advent.
Seen above is Dom Edmond Obrecht (1852-1935), a French-born Trappist who served as Abbot of Getshemani from 1898 until his death.