Whether you’re just scrolling through Easter posts or turning on the TV, religious sites have been dominating headlines. Universally, places of worship are typically calm, peaceful environments – yet their serenity struggles to survive outside their confines. Their peacefulness often becomes lost in politics, conflicting ideologies, and social media arguments. But, long before the creation of the internet and 24-hour news cycle, the monks at Monastery of the Holy Spirit recognized these limitations. They — like many of us -- have attempted to construct their own world where they can better maintain clarity and peacefulness in their day-to-day lives.
Sitting at the southernmost point of the Arabia Mountain Path, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is not exactly “coastal.” However, it does quietly stand out from the handful of monasteries in the Southeast region. In 1944, a group of 20 Trappist monks left their monastery in Kentucky and founded their own, just southeast of Atlanta. Here, they built a barn to live in while they began work on other structures. For 15 years, they worked on the abbey church, which was finally completed in 1959. The monks built the entire abbey themselves, from the soaring concrete ceilings down to the littlest pieces of stained-glass. The simple, yet ethereal, concrete structure has been heralded by Georgia Contractor Magazine as “Georgia’s Most Remarkable Concrete Building."
Most surprising, however, were the men who call the monastery home. In visiting the site, I learned that they’re just regular guys who traded in lives as a tech professional on Wall Street or a school teacher on Main Street.
Previous monastery abbot, Father Francis Michael, explains to visiting children the concept of a monastery:
“It’s like God draws a big circle,” he begins very simply. “And He wants you to live in that circle. You want to go live in His circle, too. But He’s going to put other people in the circle with you, and you don’t get to choose. He’s going to choose them. All you have to do is learn how to love one another.”
Father Michael's message could easily be applied to the world at large.
In addition to touring the abbey, the 2000+ acre property offers hiking and biking trails. Guests can also visit the stained-glass manufacturing business, a green cemetery, the largest bookstore of its kind in the Southeast, and a renowned bonsai greenhouse. At the visitor center, a film teaches about the history of the area and monasticism through the ages.
“When I was young, my grandparents would travel from Louisville to Charleston (West Virginia) each summer on their way to the coast of Maryland. They would surprise us (though our parents knew) and would come late at night, let us pack, and then we’d leave very early in the morning. (My pappaw didn’t want to catch any traffic crossing the Chesapeake Bay.) We would get to the bay bridge around 6:30am and would be able to see the sun rise over the water before we entered the pine plains on the other side.
We would usually arrive at the beach around 8:00am. We’d put our bags in the house, which was small – just a kitchen, family room, and a hole where a bathroom should be, plus a large, wide sleeping porch. Before my grandparents would let us go, my grandma would say, “Be right sure that y’all sign you’s name in the sand.” Then we’d run down the path through the marsh, out onto the sand with one thing in mind: the ponies.
The fondest memory I have that is taking that same trail through the Maryland ‘low country’ out to the tip of the land, where we would then trek through the waist-high water from one sand bar to another, until we would reach Assateague. The journey out took about 45 minutes, if we were able to catch a time without a high tide.
If we went any time before September we would be able to see the wild mares and colts in the dunes. We’d hide behind sand drifts until a large group of horses would run across the dunes – and then we would try to race them across the beach. We’d name certain horses – specifically the ones that we thought were the prettiest. And when we needed a break from running, we would take a look around and find a big empty spot to write our names. We’d write my name, and they’d write their names, and then we’d write every person’s name we could think of in big long lists. We’d even write the names of the horses we met that day. And when we were done writing we’d go and run some more.
Though we never beat the mighty fast animals we never stopped and never lost hope that we were as wild as the horses – even if we looked like lunatics to other people.
In my young age I never stopped to think how unique it was to be able to interact with creatures so wild, yet so docile.
My grandparents have long since passed away and the house is no longer there. It has been replaced with giant beach houses that tower over the beach. Even most of the long leaf pines trees that towered over the house no longer stand. The sand bars that used to speckle the distance between there and Assateague Island are now much fewer, and the distance seems to have gotten longer – probably due, in part, to the hurricanes that have since come through.
Now, my family comes up from Memphis and drives through Kentucky to get to West Virginia. We cut through Annapolis and meet my sister and her husband, round up their children, and we all make the long journey across the bay. And then the short journey to the beach. I’ve tried to present to my children the same exact path that I used to take to get to the ponies, but now it requires a boat.
So many things have changed. We have to stay in a big house that is disproportionate to the land. And, as they’ve grown up, my children have begun to prefer to go to Ocean City to visit their friends during the summer. But once I get them away from the new, we can take the journey to see the ponies.
And once we get to the island, you can hardly see any of the built-up mainland across the wide sound. And the ponies are still there running just as they used to do. And chasing them is still just as fun. And before we go back, we make sure to write our names in the sand.”
Big thanks to Chuck, who sent us this email sharing his favorite Coastal South memory. Photo via SkydiveOC.
When we think of the first European explorers who discovered the New World, we often think of Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth Rock. However, we forget that much of the “discovering” originally took place in the Coastal South. Ask any true coastal historian and they will tell you about the elusive Fort Caroline – a European settlement that predates all of these…. If only we could “find” it.
(Please excuse the blurry photos.)
Jacksonville’s Fort Caroline Fraud
Jacksonville, FL has always "claimed" the historical notoriety of being home to the site of Fort Caroline. In Jacksonville, you can even visit the "Fort Caroline National Memorial," which has been “recreated” so that visitors can learn about the first European settlement in the New World. Most history books and online encyclopedia sources have followed suit and stated that Fort Caroline was built on the St. Johns River in present day Jacksonville.
C. 1718. Map via The Fort Caroline Archaeology Project: http://www.tfcap.org
Records indicate that the original Fort Caroline housed ~300 French explorers and colonists. Records also state that the fort predated St. Augustine (the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States). This means that Fort Caroline also predated the Lost Colony of Roanoke by 21 years, the 1607 fort of Jamestown by 45 years, and the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620 by 56 years.
When we think of original colonists, we typically think of these aforementioned Protestant settlements. However, Fort Caroline is known as the first Protestant settlement in the New World.
Led by French naval officer Jean Ribault, the French exploratory group were Protestant Huguenots who came to America for religious freedom. They tried to find refuge from the anti-Protestant rage that swept their homeland.
Several years ago, retired professors Anita Spring and Fletcher Crowe put forth a theory that the true location of Fort Caroline was on the banks of Georgia's Altamaha River. However, since releasing this theory, Spring and Crowe ran into a few issues – primarily that archaeological digs on the Altamaha have been unable to prove the theory true. Also, many historians strongly contradicted the theory with their own research.
However, Spring and Crowe (along with much of the historical community) still knew at least one thing to be true: there is no valid evidence that aligns Fort Caroline with Jacksonville or the St. Johns River. The Jacksonville fort is still a known tourist ploy.
St. Marys River
Rather than insist that the fort was on the Altamaha, Crowe and Spring were open to suggestions and begin to consider alternative areas. That's when they met another archaeologist from Brunswick, Fred Cook. Cook had a compelling argument that Fort Caroline was not on the St. Johns River nor the Altamaha – but actually the St. Marys River.
Now, together, these three historians have “combined forces” and taken a new stance: Fort Caroline may have been on the southern banks/bluffs of the St. Marys River.
I was lucky enough to attend one of their presentations in-person, where I learned of their new development. They explained that many historical maps have mislabeled these rivers -- sometimes even combining them into one large river.
However, the historical/archaeological community was willing to entertain his new theory, due to some of the geographic features of the St. Marys River.
These historical descriptions of Fort Caroline commonly share:
- Fort Caroline was built on an island positioned in the River Mai (French - River May)
- You could access Fort Caroline by sailing into the mouth of River Mai – not too far inland from the Atlantic
- This island had tall bluffs (sometimes called mountains), which gave the fort added security and visibility
- In fact, the height was so high that Fort Caroline had clear visibility of the Atlantic. (Neither the Altamaha nor the St. Johns currently has bluffs that are high enough to see the Atlantic.)
- There was a many-mile-wide body of freshwater further inland, called the “Great Lake"
- The River Mai connected/flowed to this “Great Lake”
- The Okefenokee Swamp is the only many-mile-wide body of freshwater in the area that matches the descriptions, which also connects to the Atlantic Ocean via a river (St. Marys)
- Menendez’s men wrote that it took two days to march from St. Augustine to Fort Caroline when they attacked. It would be impossible to reach the Altamaha River in that time – BUT possible to reach St. Marys.
The Buck Stops Here
The unfortunate problem with the theory that Fort Caroline was on the banks of the St. Marys River is that it cannot be confirmed by archaeologists, as these bluffs/banks belong to a private land owner who will not cooperate to allow archaeological digs.
The reasons for this are obvious – primarily that the discovery of the fort would cause the land to most likely be established as a national historical site and/or have limitations established for its future use.
Historians hope that one day, they may be given the opportunity to perform some digs in the area, but until then, they continue to survey the Coastal South and consider any other locations that might have archaeological evidence of Fort Caroline.
Personally, I have paddled and boated on the St. Marys River many times. When you pass the steep bluffs on the south/Florida side, you can’t help but imagine the possibility of discovering historical artifacts buried beneath the untouched woods.
Photo via Instagram @raleigh9kitch
When I was little, I was told some Coastal South folkore about the creation of Spanish Moss. The story is set several centuries ago, before the invasive moss covered our coastal trees and the native tribes still reigned throughout the region.
As the European explorers settled the Coastal South, a Spanish man met a young native woman. He liked her, but she refused him. The much older Spaniard did not take the rejection very well, so one day he attempted to corner her alone.
The indian girl ran and ran, and eventually found an oak tree that she could scurry up. The Spaniard followed her up the tree, so she went out on a limb -- as far as she could manage. Just when she thought the Spaniard had trapped her, he lost his balance and slipped out of the tree. However, his long gray beard got caught in the branches and ripped from his skin.
After this nasty fall, the Spaniard died. However, the story claims that his beard continued to grow on the tree, and with it, his spirit continued to search for the girl. Spreading from tree to tree until it covered the entire Coastal South.
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!