Two gifts from the Hermitage: fruitcake and stillness

Sister Elizabeth Wagner of the Transfiguration Hermitage, in Windsor. (photo by Jeani Marquis)

by Jeani Marquis

Hidden from view on Windsor Neck Road behind a stand of tall pines is a monastic community named the Transfiguration Heritage. As you drive up past those pines, you get an immediate feeling of peace, perhaps it is because of the expansive idyllic view or perhaps it is the atmosphere established by women who have dedicated themselves to the contemplative life of the St. Benedict Order.

Contemplative lives do not mean they are not busy every season of the year, as this is a self-sustaining order. Their busiest season comes during Advent, their fruitcake season. This is when they put the finishing touches and gift box the fruitcakes they have expertly nurtured for most of the previous year.

These are traditional English fruitcakes handmade by centuries’ old methods, laden with fruits and nuts, aged for months while soaking thoroughly in brandy. These are not the fruitcakes you may have remembered that brought on jokes about doorstops or bricks. The brandied fruitcakes from the Transfiguration Hermitage are rich, moist and warmly mellow. A gift of this fruitcake is genuinely welcomed throughout New England by mail order. It is also available locally at the heritage gift shop as are six varieties of cookies, homemade jams, rum cakes, traditional stollen, a hot sauce and a French herb mixture they call Herbes des Landes.

St. Moira’s Retreat House

Guest room at the St. Moira’s Retreat House at the Transfiguration Hermitage. (Photo by Jeani Marquis)

When the sisters are not in the middle of fruitcake season, they are busy in their gardens or attending to visitors at St. Moira’s Retreat House. The inviting house offers four single rooms, a small conference room, a kitchenette for making breakfast and enjoying other meals prepared by the sisters. The weather-tight, passive solar house is fully handicap accessible and offers the seclusion visitors seek. Each room has peaceful views of the natural setting as inspiration for meditation, reflection and meaningful prayer.

Sister Elizabeth explains that people come to the retreat as a way to recharge themselves or perhaps they are in a point in their lives where one is faced with a major decision. The reasons why guests come are almost as varied as the visitors themselves. During their stay, guests have the supportive presence of a praying monastic community and are invited, but not required, to join the sisters in their daily prayer services.

A retreat offers the opportunity for a person to get away from their hectic lives and clear their minds of the everyday, anxious thoughts. Quieting one’s mind is not easy, even Sister Elizabeth admits she struggles. “Stillness is a gift,” she says.

In her book Seasons in My Garden, Meditations from a Hermitage, Elizabeth Wagner writes:

“God is greater than all that is, so is found in the stillness that is beyond feelings, beyond words, beyond concepts, or images or thoughts. Stillness is a contemplative posture, a waiting for God’s Word to be quietly received in the stillness of heart and mind and soul.”

Guests are welcome from all faiths to stay at St. Moira’s Retreat House and are only requested to leave a nominal fee of $50 per night. During the holiday season, the gift shop is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 205 Windsor Neck Road, Windsor, Maine.

Traditional English fruitcake soaked in brandy and other items from the Hermitage gift shop. (Photo by Jeani Marquis)


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