The Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St. Benedict, Tunapuna, Trinidad & Tobago West Indies
The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island state, just 7 miles off the coast of Eastern Venezuela. These two islands are the most southerly of the Caribbean Archipelago and feel the constant lapping of the waters of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
The Abbey of Our Lady of Exile is snugly nestled in the hills of the lush flora and fauna of Trinidad’s northern range six hundred and sixty feet above sea level. After the conquest of the Spaniards by Christopher Columbus in 1498 and the decimation of a large portion of the Indigenous peoples, the re-population of the islands drew from a wide spectrum: African slaves, East Indian indentured labourers, French land-owners, English aristocrats, Spanish conquistadors, Chinese labourers, Portuguese, Syrians, Jews, etc. With this potpourri, came an attendant array of customs, rhythms and belief systems, all intermingling with each other and drawing as well from the vestiges of the Indigenes. Although the British assumed political control in 1797, French was spoken in several quarters and Roman Catholicism held its own. Today English is the lingua franca. Hinduism, Islam, Protestantism, Pentecostalism, the Orisha Faith, the Spiritual Baptists and Roman Catholicism all co-exist, at times with a bit of syncretism, side by side with each other.
Into this microcosm came the monks from the ancient abbey of São Bento in Bahia, Brazil, in the year 1912. They were fleeing religious persecution. On their arrival at Tunapuna, they dedicated the land to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of “Our Lady of Exile”, as the account from the Gospel of Matthew reminded them of their own flight. Under the astute leadership of Dom Mayeul de Caigny and Dom Hugh van der Sanden, the monastery of Mount St Benedict flourished and soon became part of the spiritual landscape of Trinidad and the wider Caribbean. Inspired by the open spirituality of the Rule of St Benedict, the monks opened the ears of their hearts and their monastery to the diverse peoples inhabiting these lands.
Today a small band of ten monks continue faithfully the work begun by their forefathers one hundred and four years ago. Observing the daily round of prayer and monastic community living as prescribed by St. Benedict, their main task is the Liturgical Ministry to the pilgrims, hundreds of whom visit the monastery on a daily basis seeking prayer and guidance. A “parlour” ministry meets the needs of those who seek a more direct contact with the monks and where often the Sacrament of Reconciliation is sought. There is a retreat ministry which caters for both individuals and groups. Wood work, poultry farming and kitchen gardening are also activities at the abbey. “PAX” Yogurt, a product of the abbey, is sold at the “Pax Abbey Shop” on the grounds of the abbey and in all the major supermarkets on both islands of Trinidad and Tobago. The “Pax Abbey Shop” also offers religious books and items for both devotional and doctrinal use.
The Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St. Benedict, Trinidad, is the home of the Benedictine monks who live and work in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a place where people of all faiths and of no faith are welcome. It is a place apart where the Way of St. Benedict is lived and offered to all those who visit.