New landmark adds to serenity of Monastery burial grounds

An outdoor chapel built recently at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit offers more than shelter. The brick and timber structure is simply beautiful.

Referred to as the Woodlands Chapel, the structure is in the Honey Creek Woodlands natural burial grounds. The chapel is hard to miss. The chapel overlooks a forest of pine and hardwood trees as far as the eye can see. The bell tower stands at 40 feet and is located on a hill and rises from the tree tops as one reaches the burial grounds, about 1.5 miles into the protected wilderness.

Clay Chapman of Hope for Architecture (www.hopeforarchitecture.com) designed the chapel and led the construction efforts. His approach to the project is to build using artisan traditions and give the work a permanence, or lasting piece of art. As Chapman notes on Facebook, “Sculpting buildings with structural, clay brick masonry ー using one of the oldest ways to build things for one of Architecture’s most prominent patrons.”

The bell tower of the Woodlands Chapel, approaching the burial grounds. Photo by Jay Jones

The Chapel is striking in its appearance from the red brick bell tower and hand-crafted timber frame. The trusses for the frame are held together without nails and are built using Mortise and Tenon construction methods. The beams are connected to one another by fitted joints with wooden pegs holding everything in place.

Jim Burnham, business manager at the Monastery, said the monks do not have a specified purpose stated for the structure beyond its use for funeral services and a place for reflection. Burnham added that the site could also become a place for weddings or special worship services given the natural beauty of the Woodlands and the architecture design of the chapel.

The Woodlands opened in 2008 as a conservation or green, cemetery which means you or your loved one is laid to rest in the woods with minimum preparation. The remains are interred in a biodegradable container and over time becomes part of the wilderness. The Woodlands also accepts cremated remains.

The monks opened the Woodlands for all faiths. According to their Web site, the Woodlands was established “as a return to simple and traditional burial, a place to visit and contemplate, an affordable alternative to other cemeteries and as an enterprise to sustain the monks in their monastic life.”

The granite memorial plate for Martin Gatins, who’s family donated a significant portion toward the chapel’s construction. Photo by Jay Jones

If you want to see it: Cars are not allowed into the Woodlands except for funeral services. The chapel is located deep in the forest, so the Woodlands staff advises to wear appropriate footwear and be prepared for a long walk (about 1.5 miles) into the woods. If you are physically unable to make the trip yourself, the Woodlands can provide a golf cart based on availability.

Honey Creek Woodlands, located at 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers, Ga. 30094, is across from the Monastery’s main entrance. You can schedule a visit either online at www.honeycreekwoodlands.com or call the office at 770-483-7535.

Extras notes: Burnham explained the monks have always wanted to build a chapel on-site since the Woodlands opened. “They wanted to have a structure there for people to use,” he said.

Looking west from the chapel’s bell tower opening. Photo by Jay Jones.

Relocating the old Bald Rock Baptist Church building located in the Georgia International Horse Park was first considered. That granite building was built by church members and fit into the monks’ desire to have a historically significant structure. However, the cost proved too much.

 

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