Tomorrow, Island Hikers’ family adventure to Mt Thabor and Mount St Benedict begins at 8 am. Hikers are requested to assemble at 7 am, at Massy Stores Car Park, EMR, St Augustine, and the hiking time to the top is 25 minutes, with a downhill return of 20 minutes.
This hike is perfect for the entire family, and is suitable for children aged seven and older. It is rated 3 (Fair), with a short steep uphill climb, with a downhill return.
The Abbey of Mount St Benedict, situated in the Tunapuna Hills 600 feet above sea level, is a significant tourist attraction that provides spiritual guidance to Christians and non-Christians. On the entrance to the monastery, there is a large sign written in Latin “PAX” meaning “a place where peace reigns.” In October 2012, The Abbey of Mount St Benedict celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The history of Mount Saint Benedict goes back to 1911 when Abbot Dom Mayeul de Caigny of Brazil wrote to the Archbishop of Port-of-Spain John Pius to establish a Benedictine foundation in Trinidad. The Archbishop granted permission, and on January 17, 1912, Dom Mayeul purchased a small estate located in the hills of Tunapuna from Andrew Victoriano Gomez. Tunapuna, which means “the way of the water,” had no roads leading up to the mountains and to get there the Abbot had to walk the steep hills on foot. He became impressed by its landscape the splendid views and serene ambience. The asking price in those days was £4,000 and the first building he erected was a small Tapia hut. He celebrated the first mass on August 10, 1913.
During the period, 1912-1918, extensive work began on the Mount, a church, guest-house, workshop, living quarters and kitchen. By 1918, the daily crowds increased to such an extent that the monks needed to find a more secluded place for recollection and study.
Situated at 1,851 feet above sea level the monks looked at the nearby hilltops of Mt Thabor as the ideal location to build the new monastery. Its purpose was to accommodate young monks studying theology and those seeking seclusion from the influx of daily visitors. By 1922, the mansion at Mt Thabor contained 15 rooms, a chapel, a large hall and two towers 40 feet high. Reserved on each side of the tower were the Papal Flag and the Union Jack, visible from miles around.
The higher monastery was a place of solitude and for the public to visit written permission was required. However, the difficulty of climbing the mountain and bringing daily supplies caused the property to be abandoned. Today all that is left of this majestic pious structure is some concrete ruins. The wooden Tapia Castle now destroyed by the rugged elements of nature.
Mount St Benedict became an Abbey in February 1947 and, on June 3, 1947, Dom Adelbert Van Duin, a monk stationed there, became the first Abbot. His motto “to be at the service to all” and he received his abbatial blessing from Archbishop Finbar Ryan on June 16, 1947.
During the dry season, the hilltops, which surround Mt St Benedict, are sometimes vulnerable to bush fires and to preserve the landscape the forestry division replanted pine trees. There is a lookout tower used to survey the region.
The uphill walk to the Pines where Mt Thabor situated will take 25 minutes. The hilltop with the soothing breeze blowing constantly across the valley is a perfect location for a picnic. Trekking the mountain, surrounded by a backdrop of towering pine forest is a truly remarkable and gratifying experience. Visible in the distance are breathtaking views of Mt El Tucuche, Maracas St Joseph Valley, the East-West Corridor and the Central Plains. On the compound, there is a cafeteria and a gift shop to assist in the upkeep of the church. Mt St Benedict also distributes yoghurt and for many years once known for having the best honey. Tomorrow, parking at the empty lot located on the opposite side of the football field heading up to the monk is available.