Benedictine Monastery offers community a place for reflection and calm
Chances are many in the community have driven past the Benedictine Monastery sign on the side of Linton Hall Road at one point or another. And chances are they’ve never thought there was a reason to visit there. That is changing; the grounds surrounding the Monastery have been transformed into a public sanctuary “for all who seek a meaningful spiritual experience” called the Place of Peace, first envisioned by the Benedictine sisters in 2004.
“The idea was to utilize the natural beauty of our property in a way that would offer our monastic community and our neighbors an outdoor sanctuary providing peace and quiet. Originally, much of our land was a working farm. When our farming days ended, the Sisters asked, ‘how can our land be useful to the people of our area?’ We recognized that the busy-ness of society—the fast-pace that consumes us—is detrimental in many ways to a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. We wanted this to be a place where all could come for rest and reflection.” — Sister Joanna Burley
The Columbaria is a must-visit; a stone walkway leads to a circular area where the most beautiful angel statue sits atop a stone pillar. Clothed in a robe, the angel has her hands folded in prayer and is kneeling, looking down upon those who gaze up at her face. This is a place where cremated remains are encased in niches with names engraved, so it is quite sacred. A small walkway next to this area leads to a memorial garden for bereaved parents, a special place with stone engravings containing the names of lost loved ones.
Continuing down the path will lead to a gated area. Once inside, an arbor and benches line the walkway to a place that opens into a large circular labyrinth, two silos, and a forgiveness garden. Labyrinths are known for their complex, maze-like design, and they are often set into floors as decorative elements. But they have also been historically used for private meditation. Sister Joanna says, “Walking a labyrinth is an ancient meditative practice that evokes the concept of pilgrimage … a journey to a holy place.” This version was inspired by the one at Chartres Cathedral in France where many people pilgrimage to prayerfully walk the labyrinth and experience the spiritual history of the cathedral.
Adjacent to the monastery’s labyrinth sit two tall prayer silos each with stained glass windows and an iron door. But as stunning as the outsides are, the insides rivals their glory. Visitors can sit on a bench, listen to the peaceful quiet, and look up at the open sky shining down from the top. It’s almost like a glimpse into heaven.
Another area houses a teaching garden with many different displays meant to educate visitors about the native species of plants found in Virginia. Nature enthusiasts will also discover more areas to enjoy; a walkway next to the main building leads down to wooded paths and the quiet rustling of water can be heard from the flowing stream. One display is designed specifically for children, where they are encouraged to step into the garden bed, explore, play in the dirt, and touch the plants. It is colorful and fun and sure to be something children remember.
The perfect final stop in this adventure is a visit to the Grotto. The monastery’s grotto is dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, the Roman Catholic title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France in 1858. Once inside the iron gate, visitors are greeted by a plush green lawn lined with plants and benches where a statue of Mary is tucked into the center of a large cave-like rock formation.
There is far more to experience at the Place of Peace that can be encompassed in one article; the Saint Benedict Shrine, cedar grove, and Stations of the Cross. To say this place will provide a spiritual experience is an understatement. This is the perfect environment for peace and reflection on the struggles of life. As I sat on a bench in the Grotto, I asked a question out loud to the peaceful quiet. And let’s just say, I got an answer.
About the Monastery
The Benedictine Monastery has been a fixture in this community for many years; its history dates back to 1868 when the Benedictine sisters arrived in Richmond with the role of serving Catholic families and teaching children. In 1894, Sister Mary Baptista donated her family’s estate in Bristow to the Benedictine monks with the goal of opening two schools, one for boys and one for girls, specifically to serve disadvantaged children.
The monks opened St. Joseph’s school for boys and invited the Benedictine sisters to establish the girls’ school, which became St. Edith’s Academy. For 28 years, St. Edith’s provided education for young girls in the Bristow area but the academy was relocated to Richmond in 1922, where it now functions as St. Gertrude High School. When the Benedictine monks left the area to pursue missions experiences, St. Joseph’s was closed.
But there remained a need in the community. To accommodate the community’s interest in a boys school, the sisters opened Linton Hall Military Academy. Eventually the desire for families to send their children to boarding schools waned, and the sisters again adapted to serve the community. Linton Hall School was then established in 1988 as a co-ed, Catholic day school for children ages pre-K through 8th grade.
But the role of the Benedictine sisters in educating the youth of our community is just one of the many contributions they make to the lives of others. Some of their current ministries include the Benedictine Counseling Services, which provides counseling services on a sliding scale fee to those in the community; the Benedictine Pastoral Center for prayer, learning, and retreat programs; Benedictine Educational Assistance Community Outreach to Neighbors (BEACON), which provides literacy assistance for adults as well as life-skills workshops; and the BARN Community Housing, a nonprofit program for homeless women and their children located on the grounds of the Monastery.
Visit osbva.org to learn more about the monastery and its ministries, and visit Benedictine Sisters of Virginia on social media. The monastery is located at 9535 Linton Hall Road in Bristow, and visitors are welcome every day between sunrise and sunset.