If it were not for Sylvia Higginbotham’s guide to mansions, I would have most likely never found this place. But when pursing the guide I ran across information on the abbey.
Mepkin Abbey first started life as a rice plantation in 1681. The three thousand acres belonged to Sir John Colleton. He sold the land in 1762 to a French Huguenot, Henry Laurens. Henry would play a major part in the Revolutionary War. After he returned he would go on to own several other plantations, but this would always be his favorite. The plantation survived two fires during war. It was first burned down by the nasty British soldiers and later by the invading Union Army (other wise known as Yankees) during the war of the States.
In 1936 philanthropist Henry Luce and his wife Clare Booth Luce purchased the land. Later they donated a portion of the land to a group of Trappists Monks, but the Luce’s remained here. They were buried on the property.
In 1949 a group of 29 Kentucky monks began the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary or Our Lady of Mepkin. Today the monks continue to work and share their work at the abbey. They also warmly open their beautiful home and gardens to visitors looking to escape the hassles of the day and just enjoy peace and soldiery in such beautiful surroundings.
Now you do not have to be Catholic (I am Methodist), Christian, or even particularly religious to enjoy this beautiful place. The monks offer daily tours of their home as well as overnight stays and retreats. They do also have special events through the year. While we were here the Festival of the Crèche was going on. The festival is held the weekend before and after Thanksgiving and visitors are treated to a portion of the monk’s extensive collection.
The monks have a collection of about 500 crèches. They have a yearly display of about 40 crèches during the festival and rotate them around every year so repeated visitors have all new crèches the next visit. They also use some crèches donated just for the festival. We arrived at the abbey and were lead by a volunteer to the Clare Boothe Luce Library. This year 42 different crèches were exhibited through the library. The items come from all over the world. Nativities ranged a nativity by disabled artists in Bombolula Kenya, to an unusual nativity from pounded copper out of Vermont, to a beautiful light box made from Venini Glass, and artists sketch, to the final African American set carved our of Linden Wood. You are given a guide book and a voting form to nominate your favorite nativity. Which is easier than it sounds. I can’t tell you how many times I changed my mind. As I went from one intricate and beautiful crèche to the next I was sure each one was my favorite. In the end I went with the very beautiful African American set out of the Linden Wood. And judging by the reaction of my fellow visitors that seemed to be the favorite.
You can tour the abbey on your own or take a guided tour. The abbey is open:
Tuesday-Friday 9 to 4:30
Guided tours are at 11:30 and 3 and include a tour of the church. The 11:30 tour also includes the noon prayer service. There are no reservations required. You just show up and check in at the gift shop.
Large groups are welcome with advanced notice.
If you are interested in overnight stays, retreats, or sabbaticals then you can see the website for more information.
There is a gift shop on the grounds where you can purchase drinks and snacks as well as items from the abbey as well as a variety of religious articles and items made for the monks. They also have restrooms here. Most of the places I saw including the library are handicapped accessible. Do bring your cameras as photography is allowed outside in their stunning gardens. You also will be told where photography is permitted inside. When myself and several other women started to put our cameras away when we walked inside the library a very pleasant volunteer told us we were very welcome to take photos of the nativity displays.
The abbey is located in Moncks Corner about 30 minuets from Charleston. It is not to far from Cypress Gardens so why not make a day of it?
Marvelous Old Mansions and other Southern Treasures Sylvia Higginbotham. 2001. John F. Blair Publishing.
I am certainly glad that I discovered this hidden gem. The grounds of the abbey were so beautiful even in late fall and everyone we encountered were so warm and welcoming. It is well worth the drive to come and take some time out of the busy pace often found on vacations to just reflect in the serenity and beauty of this place. I hope when your in town you will find this place too.
1098 Mepkin Abbey Rd.
Very highly recommended