New Melleray Abbey in Iowa is one of the most beautiful abbeys in the Midwest, a serene oasis for those seeking spiritual renewal.
This Cistercian (Trappist) monastery is located in northeast Iowa twelve miles south of Dubuque. Situated amid beautiful rolling farmland, it is home to a community of about 30 monks who follow a contemplative life based upon the Rule of St. Benedict.
The abbey was founded in 1849 by monks from Mount Melleray Abbey in Ireland. It is part of the Cistercian Order, which originated in 1098 at Citeaux Abbey in France. The name Trappist relates to a Cistercian reform movement based in the French Abbey of La Trappe.
New Melleray Abbey has one of the loveliest churches I’ve ever seen, a soaring, simple sanctuary filled with light. Walls of limestone and furnishings of red oak combine to create a serene oasis for prayer and contemplation.
While the abbey offers a few guided retreats during the year, most guests come for a self-directed retreat. Both individuals and groups are welcomed, though reservations (especially for weekends) must be made well in advance. The abbey’s guest house offers simple but comfortable accommodations and visitors are welcome to attend the monastic services held seven times daily. Be prepared to rise early for the first service of Matins, which is held at 3:15 a.m.
While the monks here used to support themselves by farming, within the past decade their efforts have shifted to woodworking, specifically the making wooden caskets (see Trappist Caskets).
The abbey’s philosophy is stated eloquently on its website: “A monastery is a school of charity, a place where we learn to love God with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole soul. This is the simple, unique goal of the monastic way of life.”
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.