Visual Meditations from Thomas Merton's Abbey of Gethsemani
Dates of Exhibit: September 2011 - January 2012
On display in Blackfriars Gallery through January 2012, Visual Mediations from Thomas Merton's Abbey of Gethsemani offers three components which together provide a glimpse into the history and life of the monks of The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani (Kentucky) :
Stained Glass Conservation - Joan Clair Di Stefano
Musing by Br. Rene Ritchie, OCSO
To learn more about the stained glass windows in this exhibit, the history of Gesthemani Abbey, and the history of Mayer and Zettler Studios (Munich) read the exhibition notes by Fr. Chris Renz, OP.
In June 2006, at the conclusion of the annual conference of the Stained Glass Association of America held in Louisville, Kentucky, I decided that I wanted to see the Abbey of Gethsemani.
My interest was not in regards to the Abbey per se, but I wanted to make a short visit to see the final resting place of Fr. Louis (aka Thomas Merton). Many years ago I had read No Man Is an Island. It was a provocative read that spurred me on to read another of his books, New Seeds of Contemplation. So, the sole purpose in visiting the Abbey was just to “say hello,” pat the ground of his grave affectionately, and then go back home to California.
Instead, destiny had more interesting plans for me on that little visit.
While walking around the retreat grounds, something caught my eye, something sparkling in the late afternoon sun. Turning towards the source, I thought I saw some stained glass panels. Impossible, because it wasn't a church I was viewing. Instead, it was an abandoned workhouse! I tried to dismiss it, thinking to myself, “I spend too much time focused on stained glass . . . must be mind tricks!”
I spent the night at the retreat house. I couldn't stop wondering about the stained glass – why would it be in that building I saw? The following afternoon, I gave in to my curiosity. YES, it was stained glass. A LOT OF IT!
I inquired about how and why all of that stained glass was there. One of the monks, Br. Rene proceeded to relate the long story about the coming and going, the to and from and back again of these pieces of colored glass:
When the church had been renovated in the late 1950s, the trend was to return to the earlier Cistercian tradition of clear or plain colored glass. The monks decided to donate the original stained glass to local churches. But, the churches never installed them because the windows were taller than any of the existing window structures. As a result, the windows ended up in a farmer's barn. After about forty years, the farmer passed away and the windows were returned to the monks, ending up in their current location – an abandoned building on the Abbey property. Some years back, the monks temporarily put a few of the windows up for a special celebration.
Br. Rene told me that I was the only person to inquire about these windows in almost twenty years, though retreatants passed them by daily.
Afterwards, Abbot Damien invited me to put the pieces in order and restore the windows for the possibility of placing them in new locations around the Abbey. Things changed with the election of a new Abbot and council of monks, who didn't think the windows would be placed. It was decided for me to take them, continue the restoration and do what I could to give them life.
The restoration work is ongoing, even the pieces exhibited here. Those windows which have been completed are now available for sale. From the windows sold here, a portion of the sale price will be donated to DSPT and the Abbey of Gethsemani.
Wishing you Peace and All Good,
Joan Di Stefano
DiStefano Ruiz Studio
See the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology Calendar and Upcoming Events Page for all current events. For more events in the area, visit the Graduate Theological Union events calendar and the University of California, Berkeley events calendar .