WASHINGTON — The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land has been a well-known destination for spiritual tourists since the late 1890s. If visitors aren’t admiring the Byzantine-style architecture of the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, they’re exploring the historic gardens and outdoor shrines.
But a few years ago, people began flocking to this sanctuary in the busy heart of the nation’s capital for something entirely different: peace. Stillness. Silence.
Nestled in a wooded area on the monastery’s 42 acres is a simple 350-square-foot hermitage, equipped with a twin bed, small desk, bathroom, washing machine and kitchenette. Built for personal retreats and private contemplation, there is no television, radio or Internet access. Guests are given a key to a private chapel and are encouraged, but not required, to attend Mass in the main church.
Designed by students from The Catholic University of America, the hermitage opened in October 2012. It was created to give guests a comfortable place to withdraw for private prayer and contemplation. The design won the 2010 Unbuilt Award for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
“St. Francis himself went to mountaintops, to caves, to various places to have time to pray,” said Fr. Jeremy Harrington, OFM, former guardian of the monastery, in a Arlington Catholic Herald article. “He wanted to be with the people telling them about God, but he always took time to withdraw and spend time in private prayer.”
The hermitage was commissioned in 2009 after Franciscan Monastery Board of Directors member Eileen Simon wrote a white paper arguing the need for an urban hermitage to support “an ancient path for today’s pilgrim,” according to a Ward5 article.
Construction was completed and the building opened in October 2012. Since then, it has been booked nearly every night by priests, religious and laypeople alike. Visitors have come from as far as Oregon, California and Florida to spend time in solitude, reconnecting with their faith. The Franciscan Monastery hopes to open three similar buildings in the future.
“The hermitage gives people the opportunity to think, reflect and understand how God is working in our lives,” Fr. Jeremy said. “We live in a media-dominated world, so there’s a need to step back and reflect.”
The leaders of the Franciscan Monastery in Northeast Washington are “not preachy,” according to a Washington Post story on May 26, 2013. “Besides a cross on the wall, a Bible on the desk and the keys to a small chapel nearby, the space appears to be geared toward promoting contemplation not necessarily of the spiritual variety,” said writer Amanda Adams. She noted that “every guest is provided with a blank notebook for writing thoughts.”
The Franciscan Monastery asks that guests pay a suggested offering of $70 per night, with a reduced cost for religious. A full list of the hermitage’s accommodations is available online. To book a personal retreat, contact the friars at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-526-6800.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.