I am writing this early in the morning following “Vigils” at Southern Star Abbey, Kopua in Central Hawkes Bay.
This is New Zealand’s only monastic community of men. Seven monks live here pursuing the Cistercian way of life. One is a hermit who lives in a self-contained hut some distance from the monastery and meets with the community only on Sundays. Three are priests and four are brothers. Integral to the community too are Companions; the lay people who assist the monks in welcoming guests with hospitality.
Cistercians trace their history back to 1098 France, where a small band of Benedictine monks broke away from that tradition to form a more ascetic community – a simple unembellished life was their intention.
What grew was another wonderful spiritual tradition or family (Religious Order) in the Church which has spread across all the world’s continents. Kopua itself was founded by monks from the Cistercian Monastery of Melleray in County Waterford, Ireland, in 1954 (www.kopuamonastery.org.nz).
Such is the strength and focus of Cistercian life that a certain kind of architecture and design emerged to support their spiritual quest. It has been described as noble simplicity. Light shadows angles lines order symmetry perspective all play their part in helping the monks and visitors pursue the inner journey into the depths and mysteries of divine life. I hope the accompanying photos taken at Kopua capture for you something of this noble simplicity. What has struck me on this visit to the Abbey is how the hand of providence too envelopes this place with beauty. While we can draw up angles and lines, their interplay with ever changing clouds and breezes and temperatures and scents and birdsong is the work of the hand of God.
While here I have been praying that more men in Aotearoa will follow the call to monastic life. You might like to do the same. I feel gratitude and warmness of heart for the witness and faithfulness and earthy ordinariness of these monks, and for the magnificence of God’s creation shining through the fields and skies of this place of contemplation, work and welcome.