Image of the Cistercian Monastery located in Cumberland, RI. Excerpt from Cumberland Public Library Monastery History
The Cumberland Public Library is situated on the site of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Valley, occupied by the monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists. The story began in Nova Scotia in 1892, when a fire destroyed the Abbey of Petit Clairvaux. The monks then needed to re-locate elsewhere.
Dom John Murphy purchased 530 acres of land in the Town of Cumberland in August of 1900 from the Right Reverend Matthew Harkins, Bishop of Providence. Temporary quarters were quickly constructed, establishing one of the first Trappist monasteries in United States. The name of Our Lady of the Valley was selected because the nearest village was named Valley Falls and the site overlooked the Blackstone River. The monks themselves quarried the granite stone on the property to erect the many buildings.
The first building was constructed in 1902. It served as the entire monastery, for both monks and lay guests, until the church was dedicated in 1928. It then became the Guest Wing. It was here that the disastrous fire of 1950 began. Ironically, this building was one of the few made of wood, having only a stone facade. It was scheduled to be torn down and replaced at a later date. Daily life at Our Lady of the Valley held to a strict routine. The community rose at 2:00 A.M., earlier on feast days and Sundays, and spent the day in liturgical and mental prayer, study and manual labor. Most of the manual labor is done by lay brothers, who either do not have the aptitude for study or do not wish to become priests. While the lay brothers did the manual work, the religious did the "work of God". Both priests and lay brothers ate very sparingly, mostly bread, vegetables and tea or coffee. Meat was only given to those who needed it because of illness. The Cistercians are under a rule perpetual silence, which was conducive to the observance of regular discipline. While they were allowed to speak with superiors and sometimes others, they developed a system of sign language that contained simple verbs, nouns and adjectives for all other conversation.
On March 21, 1950, a terrible fire destroyed the Guest House and most of the church. The fire was discovered under the stairway of the Guest House. It spread quickly in the dormitory and leapt to the roof of the church. All of the 140 monks inside were able to escape, some of them by using ladders and others dropping 20 feet from the windows. The battle against the fire began with a bucket brigade of monks who were later joined by fire fighters from 10 communities. After the fire, volunteers used outdoor stoves to provide soup for the displaced monks. Damages were estimated to be $2 million in 1950 dollars, so one can imagine the cost in today's economy. After the fire, the monastic community decided to build on a larger piece of property they owned in Spencer, Massachusetts. This was to have been a second community. They are still there today.