Samantha England, Staff Writer
On Friday, Oct. 26, I had the honor of joining Brother Edmund and Brother Michael, as well as my fellow students, in cleaning up the Saint Martin’s Abbey. It was a unique experience and one that brings further insight into the depth of commitment the monks possess here at Saint Martin’s University, and a powerful glimpse into the history of the Abbey.
Something for the history nerds out there: Cemeteries have been around since the Palaeolithic era, with the oldest known one being Taforalt cave in Morocco dating back from 14,000 to 15,100 years ago. Thirty-four adult individuals are buried there. This practice of burying the dead continued through the Neolithic era as “grave fields,” a common practice during the Bronze and Iron ages and one of the greatest sources of archaeological evidence on ancient cultures. Archeologists study their death to catch a glimpse into how they lived, a great example being ancient Egyptian tombs and their highly detailed and decorative wall paintings. Saint Martin’s Abbey Cemetery has not been around for thousands of years, however, only approximately 109 years according the earliest headstone death year of 1909.
Brother Edmund has been the primary caretaker of Saint Martin’s Abbey Cemetery for around 30 years now. Certainly, he knows best when it comes to the care and maintenance of the cemetery grounds. Brother Michael also helps with plenty of the manual labor as part of his chores for the Abbey, especially since Brother Edmund admits that he’s “getting on in years” and it takes more from him to do the regular work of maintaining the grounds of the cemetery as each year passes. Brother Michael is not the only source of help, however, as the cemetery clean-up event has occurred before in the university’s history. It brings much needed help for Brother Edmund, a greater level of contribution of care from the community, and to my absolute shock I learned that it was not a regular, annual event here at Saint Martin’s. Though few other students arrived to participate in the clean-up, and I can promise that cemeteries are not so spooky in broad daylight as they are in the dark hour of the night.
Clean-up crews have come before to do work in the cemetery, including the cleaning and preserving of headstones. Interestingly, there is a man who refers to himself as a “hobo,” and helps with the restoration of the headstones, that way they can last for several more years. After all, every monk that had been a part of the Abbey had been brought here to the place that serves as their final resting place on earth. This was something I had heard before during one of the many speaking parts of the monks during Incipio Orientation, but didn’t really hit home until I was standing on the sponge-like earth of the cemetery and witnessing this level of devotion for myself. It was both an awe-inspiring and humble feeling to be taking part in something that was simple yet meant much to our beloved monks of the Abbey.
Brother Edmund hopes that next spring will bring in a cleaning crew. He and Brother Mark have also been in discussion on ways to potentially redesign and expand the cemetery grounds to make it easier to maintain. For myself, I’m hoping for the cemetery clean-up event to happen again next year and with the expectation of greater participation in this honorable act of service.