Monastery of the Holy Spirit

From Conyers Monks

When I think of monks, I either think of the dark robe clad balding types of the Friar Tuck variety, or of the Martial Arts Masters from any number of Kung Fu movies, but its interesting to note that Monks live among us, just a short drive to the East, near Conyers, Georgia

At the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Rockdale County, Georgia, you can see first hand, real monks at work. They are neither of the kind listed above, but rest assured robes (albeit white) are the predominant mode of dress. They belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, or as they are more commonly known Trappists.

The name Trappists comes from the original monastery founded in the 1600’s near La Trappe, France. Its also shorter and easier to remember. These are the same Trappists that brought us the Catholic Author Thomas Merton, and who were martyred by Islamic radicals in 1996 in Tibhirine, Algiers. Our Trappist Monks here in Conyers are their spiritual brothers.

The Monastery of the Holy Spirit was founded in the Spring of 1944 by a settlement of monks from the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Louisville, Kentucky. The 1400 acres of land was donated by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Henry Luce (Original Publisher of Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated magazines, among others). They originally lived in a barn and it took until 1959 for the main building to be completed (The Church was completed one year later)

The Monks live a simple, contemplative life of prayer, communal worship, and manual labor. It is nice to have in our area a physical reminder of how simple life could be, if we only made the proper choices. On my visit, I was able to speak briefly with a monk, who had been in residence there since 1949. Imagine a life lived in communion with God and the land, free from commercial marketing, 10 minute lunches, reality TV, incessant consumerism, and the overwhelming drive to make more money. It was clear who was the better man.

To survive the Trappists do several things to support themselves. They are most famous for their Trappist Beers, though (unfortunately for us), that craft is reserved for the order in Belgium and the Netherlands (though maybe if someone made the right donation, we could bring this craft to our backyard). Here at the Conyers monastery they are most well known for their Stained Glass work and their Bonzai Trees. They also have a nice Abbey Store where Catholic religious items and books can be purchased as well as food items they produce, or are produced by other Trappist Monasteries around the world. Anything under the label, From the Abbot’s Table, is made by our Conyers monks, and their specialties are fudge and jellies. I bought some Cherry Apple Pie Butter that simply made an English Muffin sing in my mouth.

More and more the monks are relying on Tourism to draw revenues, and thus I felt compelled to let Atlanta know what you can do out there. The Church is open to the public (Hours of operation), and I was able to attend the Vespers service (evening prayers). I was a little disappointed that it was not done in Latin, not that I’m a hyper traditionalist, but English is more accessible to the every day Georgian. You can tour the Bonzai greenhouse, or take a nice walk on the grounds along a tiny, but picturesque lake that has its share of geese and ducks. There is a short film about the history of Monastery to be viewed. And let’s not forget the primary goal of the center, it is a quiet place that makes one’s walk with God a little easier. Many organizations make use of its facilities for Planned Retreats, but you can use the land, free of charge, for personal spiritual growth.

Now in interest of full disclosure, I do want to let it be known that I am a practicing Catholic and have often thought I would make a good monk, except for the no women part. But that doesn’t change a thing, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is a welcome, albeit different, addition to the varied attractions in the Greater Atlanta area. It certainly has a different purpose than most, but how many of us are, from time to time, searching for a different purpose. If you only spend an hour or so there, remember the Arabia Mountain preserve is only seven miles away.

Blood Mountain


View from the top
From Blood Mountain

One of the most exhilarating hikes I’ve been on here in Georgia is climbing the Blood Mountain Peak along the Slaughter Creek Trail. It traverses some dense sections of the Blood Mountain Wilderness and reaches the highest point on the Appalachian Trail at 4,458 feet (Map of Peak). I think the Elevation of Lake Winfield Scott is about 1740 feet, so its like going up Stone Mountain a little over four times.

Lake Winfield Scott

Unfortunately, there has been a recent tragedy to a fellow hiker in the shadow of the Mountain. The news reports reverberate with the sad ending of the life of Meredith Emerson, unknown to me until the news broke, but a fellow traveler for sure.

In honor of her spirit there will be a memorial hike at the nearby Mountain Crossing (info here). Be there if you can.

“Pretty Tree on the Slaughter Creek Trail

The events that transpired should heighten in all of our minds the needs for preparation and protection. I’ve been known to hike alone, but I’m an unattractive 6’3” 240 pound man with an ornery disposition. Please go in a group, just for the sake of potential injuries, Hiking is a mostly safe pastime. Most of the people you meet are true salt of the earth folks (read this post, it‘s true I was there). If you need to go alone, choose a heavily monitored area like Kennesaw or Stone Mountain.

Blood Mountain Peak View

Blood Mountain shouldn’t be remembered as a Mountain of Blood. The Blood moniker stems from an old Indian Battle between the Creek and the Cherokee (the Cherokee won), but still nothing could sound more menacing than taking the Slaughter Creek Trail up Blood Mountain. Don’t worry the Battle ended over a century ago.

Slaughter Creek Path

What you get is peaceful wilderness time. You get your heart pumping blood through your veins. You get awe inspiring mountain views. You might get to see a deer or a bear or an owl. You might meet some other folk on the trail. You will get a sense of accomplishment if you scale the 6th tallest mountain in Georgia.

CCC built Cabin

At the top, there are two man made structures of note. There is the CCC constructed cabin which you can hole up in if the weather runs afoul. There’s actually a little sign-in booklet to let future travelers know you were there. On or about the 6th of June, 2007, you will see what I consider the first advertisement of in its pages. You can stand on a big rock mound next to the cabin to get the big picture view of the North Georgia Mountains. Just to the West of the Cabin, there is an outhouse, which may be the most disgusting outhouse in the world. It is the most disgusting, I’ve ever seen. It made a fellow hiker remark, “I’d rather just [bleep] in the woods.” And he was right.

Me and my Brother made it up the mountain in a little over two hours. It’s better than 5 miles one way, and this is generally considered the easiest access point to the peak. I know I told you to be prepared but my brother made it up to the top of the mountain with only a single bottle of water and a pack of Starburst. Not the best plan, but its now become a tradition.

Trail Essentials
Approximate Time: 4-5 hours
Approximate Distance: 5 miles one way (10 round trip)
Trail Surface: Compact Soil, Stairs
Features: Wilderness, Athletic Sections, Mountain Views, Rustic Cabin
Scenic Quality: B+
Athleticism: A
Solitude: B
Value: A
Overall Rating: A-

Parking: $5 (June 2007)
Hours of Operation: Open Year Round, Sunlight Hours
Facilities: At the recreation center and the top of the mountain (yuck)
Maps: None, prepare ahead of time (look here)
County: Union


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