One of the most difficult classes I took in college was Honors Religion. One concept that we discussed for weeks was “the numinous” – holy spaces – or more specifically – What is it about certain spaces that give them an aura of “holy”?
This discussion has stuck with me and gets dug up in my brain every time I encounter a place that rings the bell of “numinous” just so. Blue Cloud Abbey outside of Marvin, SD was one of those places.
Blue Cloud was founded in 1950 by a group of 40 Benedictine monks.
The monastery was a self-sustaining community with the mission of ministering to Native American tribes. Over the years, the brothers also successfully managed a popular retreat center for groups and individuals.
So a few years ago when the monks were shuttering the Abbey and relocating to different monasteries across the United States, it came as a particularly devastating blow.
Not only had we spent every Christmas Eve night well into Christmas morning (about 1:30 AM) at Blue Cloud, but we had seen the innards of the Abbey and the handiwork of the monks.
The Abbey had a smell to it, and sound quality that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The long stone hall with the beautiful stained glass held my attention through hours of masses even as a very small child. The long lines of monks processing in before mass and singing hymns that echoed off the walls made of solid, massive, smooth stones – the effect was something so holy, and so tranquil that it has stayed with me all these years.
After Sunday Mass, we would all file down to the large dining room in the basement. I was mesmerized by the honey dippers in wooden bowls of honey – from bees on the grounds of the abbey and cared for by bee-keeping monks. We helped ourselves to cookies and juice, and while the adults talked we went exploring. We rolled down the grassy hills, stared in awe at the native art, and perused the gift shop at length until we knew the inventory by heart.
When I was older I discovered a treasury of fabrics and notions in a workroom where priests’ vestments were made by the monks. They kept cattle and gardens. The grounds were vast and supported the monks in their ministry.
So when news came that the monks could no longer support themselves and care for the grounds due to their aging population, the fact that they were selling Blue Cloud Abbey came as devastating news.
After what felt like years on the market (perhaps it was) a group of Catholic families banded together to buy the Abbey.
What a relief! They have methodically and painstakingly restored little bits of the Abbey at a time. And while the church has been decommissioned, the space maintains it’s numinous quality. The beautiful stained glass has been retained.
And while they are not allowed to call the facility Blue Cloud Abbey, The Abbey of the Hills has become a retreat center, concert hall, outdoor recreation center and so much more.
I am so proud of my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Rausch, and the other people who breathed life back into the Abbey. I am so grateful for the sacrifices they have made to do it.
So if for any reason you are in northeast South Dakota, or your looking for an excuse or a retreat, please consider visiting the Abbey of the Hills.
What about you? What is a numinous space in your life that has somehow gone through a transformation, but retained its holy quality?
Enrich your prayer life with a deep selection of Chaplets. This encyclopedia book lists over 170 chaplets and Rosaries with prayers.