Friday, October 19, 2012

Richmond Hill- a history lens

Twice a year I am blessed to join the Spiritual Life Team for the Southeastern District for a group retreat at Richmond Hill, Richmond, Va.  Richmond Hill is an ecumenical Christian community located in the historic monastery of the Sisters of the Visitation of Monte Maria on Church Hill in the center of Richmond. The mission of the community is to pray and work for the transformation of the metropolitan city.

A brief history gives added depth to the experience of staying here -- even if it is just 24 hours.

The land was deeded by King James to William Byrd of Westover
 who commissioned Col. William May to lay out a city on Richmond Hill in 1737.

Resting spot in the Gardens

This land lay largely undeveloped until Richmond 
was declared the capital of Virginia in 1779.
 Col. Richard Adams built an attractive mansion overlooking
 the James River and the Shockoe Valley in the mid 1780's.
 It quickly became a center of activity and guests included
 George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee. 
 William Taylor purchased the house in 1859
 and added extensive renovations. 
Richard Wilkins bought it in 1860
 as he moved to Richmond to educate his children.
  His son watched the destruction of Richmond
 from the cupola during the Civil War. 
 Soon after the war, the Wilkins family
 sold the Richmond Hill mansion to the Catholic Bishop.
The sisters of the Visitation came to the house in 1866, 
following the destruction of the city of Richmond.

Watering Cans for the Gardener
Garden Views

 It became a school for girls
 and they inaugurated daily prayer for the city
 and the needs of its citizens.
The school prospered
 and a new chapel was built in 1894.

The Chapel

Chapel Windows at Richmond Hill

Glorious windows

A restoration completed in 2004 brought back the gold leaf
and the verse from Psalm 127 gives purpose to the sacred space.
"Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain."

 Soon after, in 1900 a new wall was gifted to enclose the grounds
 of the monastery and the school. 
A new dormitory was built and sometime in 1928 or 1929,
 the Adams Mansion was taken down.
 ( a part of the complex but not the
 Adams- Taylor house that remains there)

 Soon after this, the school was closed.
  A new dormitory building became the space for the sisters
 to fully engage in the contemplative live of prayer and work.
 The original cupola was removed in 1955
 following a lightning strike at nearby Trinity Methodist.

The old monastery fell in maintenance and repair problems.
The sisters moved to a new site in Rockville, MD.
 No developers wanted the site.

A non-profit group was formed in 1986
 to raise money and purchase Richmond Hill. 
In answer to their prayers, 
the group was able to purchased Richmond Hill in Nov. 1987.
 It opened it in Fall 1989.
 The turn of the century brought renewed concerns
 for using the space in modern ways.
  Work was begun in 2004 on an $8 million renovation. 
The cupola was restored.
 A bookstore, elevator and a large meeting room were added.

This week as I moved from chapel, to garden, to dormitory - 
I think a hush of history followed my footsteps

 and brought a quiet whisper to my spirit. 
And I marked the spot.

history source-
a brief history of Richmond HIll
 by Benjamin P. Campbell.- Dec. 2007.

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