For many, many decades the peace and tranquility of Mount St Benedict have provided great solace to thousands of pilgrims who have journeyed to the Mount seeking counsel from members of the religious community, as well as to offer prayers. Next Saturday, October 6, the Mount marks its centenary with a High Mass at which Archbishop Joseph Harris would preside and deliver the homily and the monks are asking that Roman Catholics and people of other religious persuasions, join them as they mark 100 years of mission in Trinidad and Tobago. The monastery, often referred to simply as “The Mount,” existed as a Simple Priory for three years after it was established (1912 to 1915). That changed in March 1915 when it was granted the status of a Conventual Priory, dedicated to Our Lady of Exile.
It was founded by some Benedictine monks who came from Bahia in Brazil led by Belgium-born Monk Dom Mayeul de Caigny, who was at the time the Abbot of San Sebastian in Bahia, and who eventually became the first Conventual Prior of Mount St Benedict. But the next change of status did not happen until 1947 when Mount St Benedict was raised to the status of an Abbey and Dutch-born Dom Adelbert van Duin was elected its first Abbot, who led the community for 25 years. Since that time Mount St Benedict has seen four more Abbots, with the current Abbot being John Pereira, now in his second six-year term.
The people, who lived in the small village of St John at the foot of the mount have seen the monastery grow from a small tapia hut, higher up the hill than its present location, to a modern Abbey, which has served the spiritual needs of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who make the journey up the hill to the sacred ground. In its early years Mount St Benedict was the economic driver of the village population, since many were employed in various ways on the hill. The men worked mainly in assisting in building the first road to the Mount as well as on the first buildings on the present site together with maintenance and other environmental chores, while the women did the domestic chores like cooking, washing and ironing for the Monks.
In a book titled The Abbey—Mount St Benedict, published in 2005, author Mark Tierney OSB (Order of St Benedict) wrote, “Today, Mount St Benedict is well known and loved by thousands of Trinidadians. It has over the years, become a significant tourist attraction, though its main appeal has been to those —whether Christian or non-Christian—who are seeking spiritual guidance, or who wish simply to spend some time in prayer.”
The foreword of the book records Abbot John Pereira as describing the Monastery. He wrote, “The Monastery at Mount St Benedict…has become part of the spiritual landscape of the Caribbean. It is the centre of spirituality and peace for people of all faiths and for those who profess no faith at all. It is recognised as a sacred place on many counts. It has an inherent sacrality, based on the natural beauty of its geography. “Secondly,” he continued, “it has become sacred on account of the experiences of healing and wholeness that many people encounter here. “Finally, the continual round of prayer and worship which takes place on ‘The Mount’ renders it a sacred place, a place set aside—a place of peace,” stated Abbot Pereira.
Vernon Khelawan is media relations officer of Catholic Media Services Limited (Camsel), the official communication arm of the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain. Its offices are located at 31 Independence Square, Port-of-Spain. Telephone is 623-7620.