South Carolina Picture Project
South Carolina Picture Project

Mepkin Abbey — Moncks Corner, South Carolina

SC Picture Project  |  Berkeley County  |  Mepkin Abbey

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Mepkin Abbey

Mepkin Abbey is home to a community of Roman Catholic monks who live, pray, and work on the lands of the historic Mepkin Plantation, Clermont Plantation, and Washington Plantation, all along on the Cooper River in Moncks Corner.

Mepkin Entrance

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The abbey rests on 3,000 acres. The land was originally granted to the sons of Sir John Colleton, a Lord’s Proprietor and cousin of fellow Lord’s Proprietor George Monck (for whom Monck’s Corner is named), in 1681. By the eighteenth century, it became the rice plantation of Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, succeeding John Hancock. In 1916 the tract was purchased by J.W. Johnson, Esquire, along with Washington and Clermont plantations.

Mepkin Abbey Gardens

Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In 1936 the property was purchased by publishing magnate Henry Luce of Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated magazines. Under their ownership, Luce and his wife, Clare Booth Luce, added several outbuildings and formal gardens, giving the grounds and buildings the modern, manicured look they bear today.

Mepkin Gate

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mrs. Luce was well known in her own right. She served as our nation’s first female ambassador. A prominent conservative, she also served in the US House of Representatives, and in addition, she was the author of numerous plays and two books. Though they primarily lived in Washington DC, Mr. and Mrs. Luce are both buried at Mepkin Abbey, alongside her mother and daughter. The remains of Henry and John Laurens rest here as well. Henry Laurens feared being buried alive so at his request he was cremated at Mepkin. This was the first formally-documented cremation in the country. (The photo below shows the Laurens Family cemetery. The Luce Family cemetery can be seen further down this page, along with a photo of an African-American cemetery.)

Mepkin Abbey Graveyard

Tom Haines of North Charleston, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mrs. Luce converted to Roman Catholicism in 1946. Three years later, she donated Mepkin to the monks of Gethsemani Abbey of Kentucky, who belong to the Order of Cistercians but are better known as Trappists monks. The monastery has operated here since the 1960s.

Mepkin Abbey Grounds

Andy Hunter of North Augusta, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The monks live a life centered around prayer and quiet meditation. They also work to support themselves and the abbey primarily by cultivating and selling mushrooms to local stores and restaurants. The mushroom farm replaced an egg farm that was phased out in 2007 after a controversy regarding the monks’ treatment of chickens was institgated by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Though the monks denied any mistreatment, they agreed to cease egg production, stating the highly-publicized controversy was disruptive to their monastic lifestyle.

Mepkin Abbey Gardens Sign

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2018 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The monks’ work is not solely centered around mushroom cultivation, however. They are responsible for maintaining the abbey, including landscaping, cleaning, and putting books away in their vast library. Hospitality is also a large part of life at Mepkin Abbey. Many visitors of all faiths come here to seek guidance or simply to take time for private reflection.

Mepkin Wood Carving

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Christian art adorns the gardens of Mepkin Abbey, and the above image shows a wood carving created by David Drake, nephew of the late Brother Laurence. The carvings are made of fallen live oak trees (Quercus virginiana) which were toppled during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Mepkin Abbey Painting

Jerry Bridgers, 2010 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The monastary’s church, pictured below, is a modern design based on 12th-century architecture. The Cistercian Reform Church employs austerity and simplicity in its buildings, hoping to allow the focus to remain on God rather than ornate distractions.

Mepkin Abbey Church

Lydia Woomer of Irmo, 2018 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Here, the church was built with three elements in mind: natural light, which enters the room through several highly-placed windows; natural materials, such as red oak furniture, yellow pine found in the roofing, and quarry-tiled floors; and balanced proportions which mimic the 9′ 6″ grid of many medieval buildings.

Mepkin Abbey Live Oaks

Mike Warren of Charleston, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The bell tower to the left of the church, pictured below, rings seven times a day to call the monks to prayer. The monks honor the spirits of those who lived before them on this property to ensure they have not died in vain. In their eyes, the bell does not only call them to prayer but also “the native American Indians who used this land as a hunting place. They call the Laurens family and the early patriots who lived and loved on this land. They call the African Americans who lived and worked and died on this land; who built these rice fields, not only with their physical labor, but also their minds which engineered their design. They call the Luce family, who used this land as a place to bring and entertain friends. And they will call these our beloved dead resting in this wall. May all those who are or who will be inurned here continue to speak to us and guide us.”

Mepkin Abbey Belltower

Lydia Woomer of Irmo, 2018 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The abbey also hosts a festival of creches, or nativity scenes, each Christmas season. Artful creches from all over are on display for visitors to appreciate. People can even vote for their favorites! There is a gift shop at the abbey that sells a variety of items, from books on monastic traditions to their famous compost.

Mepkin Abbey Gates

Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

African-American Cemetery at Mepkin Abbey

Around 50 years ago, the monks at Mepkin Abbey were clearing land and discovered a few head stones and evidence of several unmarked graves. Upon further discovery, it was determined that this was the burial ground for both enslaved and later freed black laborers of Clermont Plantation. Historic Taveau Church, a former Clermont Plantation church that became an African-American church, rests near this site.

African American Cemetery Mepkin

Yvette Wilson of North Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The monks cleaned up the cemetery and opened it to the public during a ceremony on September 4, 2006. They also commissioned a painting from local artist Jonathan Green to honor the slaves of Clermont Plantation. The finished work, a 72″ x 60″ painting called Seeking, was unveiled during the opening ceremony and now hangs in Mepkin Abbey. A 2007 documentary by filmmaker Charles Allan Smith, also called Seeking, follows Green as he creates the film’s namesake painting.

African American Cemetery Gate Mepkin

Yvette Wilson of North Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The gate pictured above was designed by Joseph “Ronnie” Pringle, cousin of noted blacksmith Philip Simmons, whose ironwork graces many downtown Charleston structures. Pringle, born in 1943, apprenticed with Simmons from the age of 13 and eventually took over his shop with the help of cousin Carlton Simmons. The gate is titled A Sacred Place.

African American Cemetery Mepkin Grave

Yvette Wilson of North Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The headstone above marks the burial site of Mariah Richerson, a woman who was born just outside of legal slavery who died in 1919. It is adorned with a string of seashells. The burial sites of slaves were largely unmarked – at least in any permanent way – as owners were unlikely to provide formal stones for their enslaved workers. That said, family and friends paid respects with items such as seashells, pottery shards, plants, and wooden planks. The photo shows another example of a trinket used to honor a grave.

African American Cemetery Mepkin Post

Yvette Wilson of North Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The cemetery is accessed through a cotton field after driving down a dirt road. Signs helps to guide visitors to the sacred site.

Historical Pictures of Mepkin Abbey

This picture shows Mepkin as it looked while owned by the Clare and Henry Luce. The photo was taken in 1938.

Luce Home in Moncks Corner

Gottscho/Schleisner, Inc/Museum of the City of New York. © 1938

More Pictures of Mepkin Abbey

Luce Cemetery, Mepkin Abbey

Darrell Parker of North Charleston, 2019 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Luce Cemetery Entrance, Mepkin Abbey

Darrell Parker of North Charleston, 2019 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mepkin Abbey Luce Cemetery

Paula Canine of Pawleys Island, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mepkin Abbey Plantation Bell

Paula Canine of Pawleys Island, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Garden at Mepkin Abbey

Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mepkin Path

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Reflections on Mepkin Abbey

Photographer Tom Haines of North Charleston sends us his memories of capturing his image above: “My second visit to the Abbey. First time I discovered this little gem of a cemetery. Interesting grave markers which portray early residents. No one else on the grounds! Very hot day as I recall….”

Mepkin Abbey Info

Address: 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks Corner, SC 29461
GPS Coordinates: 33.116202,-79.953151

Mepkin Abbey Map

Please Share Your Thoughts!

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10 Comments about Mepkin Abbey

SCIWAY says:
September 6th, 2018 at 1:28 am

Hey, gardens are open daily from 9 AM to 7 PM. Hope you’ll visit, it’s a beautiful place!

Connie Murray says:
September 5th, 2018 at 5:21 pm

Do you have special hours that you can view the land? It is so beautiful, I have never been there, but I have seen some of the surroundings by boat.

SCIWAY says:
April 6th, 2018 at 10:26 pm

Hello Cheryle, that was a good catch on the story. While slavery had been abolished since 1865, many plantations in the area did have formerly enslaved people living on the plantations still working and operating as normal, though they were free to leave. Often this was because they had nowhere else to go. Many instances of descendants living on plantations existed well into the 1990s. Of course, times were different but with Jim Crow laws and things of that nature, the transition was not so cut and dry of being legal and not legal, but we did change that wording some to make it less confusing and appreciate your tip! Thank you for the compliments and that is wonderful that you are interesting in saving homes and saved an entire town, we are impressed and grateful!

c fuller says:
April 5th, 2018 at 9:32 pm

In the story above about cemeteries, mention is made of Mariah Richerson, said to be born in slavery and died a free woman. If you do the math, she died in 1919 at the age of 36, as written on the headstone. However, this would mean she was born in 1883, and no one believes there were slaves in America in that year. You might want to delete this portion of the story, as it seems to be untrue.

I come to your website as a means of escape. While I own several historic homes, one almost as old as several you have for sale, it is difficult for me to leave, as I run a B&B to support my habit of restoration. I enjoy seeing the houses and reading your articles while I daydream of buying and restoring so many of the homes you have displayed. Thank you for all of your efforts. I saved the community of Gruene, Texas from demolition in 1974, and have watched it change and grow into quite the tourist town. If you wish to read a bit and have the time. the water tower got it’s dent will tell a bit more about it.

Keep up the good work!

Cheryle Fuller

charlotte ives says:
October 26th, 2017 at 7:22 am

I ordered one of your fruitcakes last year and wish to order another as soon as it’s available this year. The sample I had while at your Crechè exhibition made me know where to find the best of fruitcakes!

SCIWAY says:
July 18th, 2017 at 9:45 pm

Wonderful connection!

Mary Anne Hamilton says:
July 18th, 2017 at 5:08 pm

My husband, Laurens Morgan Hamilton was named after John Laurens, so I visited the Laurens Cemetery on June 18, which would have been my husbands 117 birthday. He was the great-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton. The next day I was on the A H Cutter for the changing of the Captain.

SCIWAY says:
July 8th, 2017 at 10:51 pm

We agree that that is some beautiful work! Your best bet would be to contact Mepkin directly as their stock is always rotating. Their website with contact information is located here: Thanks!

Peggy Reinhardt says:
July 8th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Would love to have a replica of the beautiful carving by David Drake either in rock or wood. Are these for sale in gift store at monastery? (The carving of a monk holding a vessel-)

Mickey White says:
January 28th, 2015 at 11:15 am

Mepken Abbey of Moncks Corner, SC has a history dating back to 1681. Don't miss this treasure!!


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