Private worlds glimpsed by a privileged few, monasteries have long maintained an aura of mystery. Outsiders imagine the silent seclusion, the austere settings, the rigorous routines of a religious life. But these sacred places share a common bond with the secular realm. Monks and nuns, too, know the peace and the pleasure that come from gardening.
In Monastic Gardens, Mick Hales goes behind the gates for a rare look at the integral role a garden plays in the life of a monastery. Gardening is not undertaken for decorative purposes alone: Instead, fruits and vegetables flavor meals and carefully tended refuges are the perfect spot to pray. Surprisingly vibrant blossoms may even decorate a guest room or altar. Starting from the cloister garth and spanning outward to the sacristan's cutting garden, the physic or herb garden, the vegetable garden, the orchards, and the vineyards, Hales's evocative images capture the many facets and functions of monastic grounds.
Through insightful interviews, members of the different orders discuss the divine purpose of gardening and its symbolic significance in Christian faiths. Hales also writes about the history of such sanctuaries, from one of the first, tended by Saint Anthony in third-century Egypt, to the present-day monastery cared for by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Rock in Shaw Island, Washington. Whether the photos are of a medieval abbey or a modern American monastery, Monastic Gardens immortalizes these holy sites that seem to transcend the limitations of time.