We’ve moved in! (almost) Our bells were moved at the beginning of July, and NCC Construction gave us the keys to the building on the eve of St Benedict’s feast, July 10. Thus we were able to celebrate First Vespers of St Benedict in our wonderful, new church. Soon after, a truckload arrived from Scourmont Abbey in Belgium: 22 guest benches in beech, and 16 choir stalls and desks. In a matter of a half an hour, our new worship space was transformed into a Cistercian monastic church. Ah, heaven! We’ve been very busy with putting furniture together, moving 8 people and the rooms we use in common. For two weeks before we managed to move the kitchen, we were living between the old and new monasteries, sleeping in the new but eating our meals in the old. Fortunately we have had lots of help: newlyweds Ben and Liz, Mary LaVoy, Ken Lorr, and Fr Joel from the Abbey of Cîteaux who will be with us for 6 months. Our indefatigable support group has provided the curtains and blinds for our cells and offices, in addition to selling 403,000 kroner worth of soap at the medieval market during the St Olav’s feastdays. Our new washing machines and dryer are here, but not installed, so we have to deliver and pick up our laundry in the old house. Fr Anthony is putting bookshelves together, before we can even think of moving the library. On August 15 we were able to begin receiving retreatants in our former rooms. When these are all ready, we will be able to take about 11 retreatants at the same time. Up until now we have celebrated the Feast of St Bernard in the ruins with the support group and islanders. This year for the first time we were able to celebrate the Feast in the new monastic church. We had lunch for about 110 guests in the cloister where everyone could enjoy the view of the fjord. Many had tears of amazement and joy that the re-establishment of Tautra Mariakloster has become a reality! In September we are having Open House every Saturday and Sunday from 2:30 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. when we will close with Vespers. We expect thousands of visitors who want to see the inside of the monastery. After that, we hope to settle into a more normal, hidden contemplative life! From Wilderness to Eden When God created the world, he planted a garden in Eden. When Jesus died on Golgotha, he was buried in a garden nearby. When the Risen Christ first appeared, he was taken for the gardener. When monks create a monastery, they fittingly plant a garden. But in the beginning the earth was an empty waste, the Spirit hovering over the abyss. When Moses led Israel out of slavery, he led them through the desert. When Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan, the Spirit threw him into the wilderness. When our monks left Molesmes for
Cîteaux, they started in a wilderness of thistles and thorns. When we came to Tautra, God had prepared for us a beautiful Garden of Eden, full of fruits, berries and flowers. Now he and you have built us His house, a fantastic new complex of monastic buildings. We have moved in, every day we are in wonder and praise that we may live in such beauty and space. Yet, the beginning starts in wilderness. Ours is inside and outside, seven small and large open rooms inside the building, large areas around the building intended to become gardens. As of yet all this is wilderness of rocks and dirt, gravel, sand, clay - and weeds. Through the winter we made plans for Eden with our landscaping architect, Jan Ole Lein. He grew up on Tautra, and is the perfect man for the job, grounded in the nature and tradition of this monastic island. When we suggested Dew Willows in front of the church, he suggested Hawthorn: They won't hide the church when you approach it, and they were in the monastic garden of Tautra in the 18th century, and probably long before. We happily embraced his ideas, also using wild rosehip bushes so typical of the island, for a high wall stopping kids from climbing the supporting wall at the end of the building. These rose bushes kept the cows in pasture in the old days. Effective and beautiful! When we redid the plans for the monastery two years ago to make it fit our budget, everything for gardens and outdoor costs was taken out of the budget in order to finance the building proper. So when we started working with the landscaping architect, we had NO money for the project, assuring him that God would provide. Before Christmas we decided that all donations for the next six weeks should go to the gardens. After six weeks we had 400,000 kroner for the gardens. By the end of March we had 770,000 kroner for outdoor works, about $120,000. Courageously the architect made the plans. Now a wonderful local company, Arentz and Munkeby, have started the job. Once again the heavy noise of big machines sounds like music in our ears. Heavy layers of rough rocks and gravel are pressed into the ground to make a solid foundation for the pavement inviting our guests to the church. Within a few weeks we should be able to open our beautiful new church for all who want to worship with us, with a nice and secure access, including a handicap ramp. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness. We hope to make both our wilderness garden (Tautra rocks and sand, and a few flowers that grow up from the bare rocks) and our Eden of evergreens – both viewed from the Church, within this year. All we can afford now is the entrance to the Church with the hawthorn trees, an old fashioned rural fencing and a hedge in the front towards the road, the arranging of the two largest interior gardens, and the digging of the cemetery. The two large gardens will be important outdoor living space for us, sheltered and sunny. The tiny gardens we will try to make ourselves, with help from friends and garden enthusiasts.
The large areas outside the buildings will have to wait till we can afford a next step. We have bought grass seeds for sowing as soon as we have time to remove the rocks in the ground. In the meantime God is very generous with weeds. The wilderness invites you to see the beauty of a single straw or a tiny flower sprouting courageously up between the rocks. There is a time for emptiness, a time for waiting, a time for sowing and planting, - and hopefully next year, a time for seeing the first seedlings of the new monastic gardens, and the new sprouting of bushes planted. The Japanese Garden Tradition The beauty, harmony and peace of Japanese incorporate many principles and values that correspond with our own cloister life here on Tautra. Just to name a few:
Enclosure: a barrier (be it fence or rock or bamboo) creates a place of retreat or meditation.
Space: the concepts of space and void are essential in Japanese gardens. Often this space is created with raked gravel or sand, as well as with a disciplined use of plants and rocks.
The garden gate: This gate indicates a threshold where one casts away worldly cares to enter a sacred space. It also prepares one to leave that sacred space and re-enter ordinary life.
The bridge: symbolizes the idea of transition. It may be built of stone or wood and it may traverse a pond, or it may be over a sandy area which symbolizes water.
We plan to apply some of the concepts and elements of Japanese gardens here at Tautra Mariakloster. It’s not really a question of making a Japanese garden here. In the first place, a real Japanese garden requires expert help: a master who has studied the art of making these gardens for at least 15 years. Also, we are in Norway, not in Japan. But we can create a Norwegian garden using Japanese principles. We have chosen two areas where we will experiment with this. One is a small, enclosed area near the Novitiate and the Scriptorium. The other area is in back of the monastery where there is already a magnificent large boulder. This stone was found by the builders and was about to be discarded when we assured them we wanted it. Japanese gardens can be classified according to certain types. Three basic ones are:
1. The Hill and Pond garden. This type is very old and comes originally from China. It includes the Stroll garden type where a path meanders along, often in a circle around a pond. The "pond" may have real water or it may be sand or gravel that suggests water. This type often includes a large standing stone.
2. The Flat garden. These are courtyard gardens often found in front of temples. These flat gardens imitate the seashore and usually include a lot of sand or gravel, a lot of open space. The flat garden is often viewed from above rather than entered.
3. The Tea Garden. The focus of this garden is a "dewy path" which leads to a tea house. It features gates and a water basin, often with a "deer-scare" (bamboo pipes which sometimes carry water which flows into the basin).
The Japanese-style gardens at Tautra Mariakloster will not be of one definite type but combine a mixture of elements. The garden in the back will be more of the first type, the stroll garden, while the garden near the Scriptorium will be more like the flat garden with some elements of the tea garden. We do not have the funds to build these gardens in the first phase of our project but we hope that these two gardens can materialize in the not too distant future as they would contribute to the peace and harmony proper to our Cistercian life.
With love from your sisters on Tautra