Abbey courtyard with stone watering trough
Gardens at Benediktushof
In the former Benedictine monastery Christian spirituality in the form of contemplation and Zen-meditation go hand in hand. This also shows in the outside facilities of Benediktushof. The facilities were built around the former cloister and today’s meditation hall, the Zendo, in a cross-shape. The watercourses follow the cross-shaped axials. There are multiple styles of garden present at Benediktushof, that all represent the essence of silence and thus aid in mindfulness, contemplation, and meditation. The Zen-garden, cloister, garden of silence, they all captivate through their simplicity and the absence of striking elements. They share the unfathomable, a distinct atmosphere and touch the heart.
The person who planned and realized the exterior facilities – Friedhelm Hellenkamp – had already imagined a stone watering trough on the interception of the cross-shaped paving of the monastery cloister (today’s Zendo) in 2003. Today there is an octagonal well, which fits right into the original design of the former monastery courtyard. Next to the remnants of the Roman crusade, the cross-shaped paths, the labyrinth of grass, and the statue of Christ, it is another symbol of the Christian tradition: Up until the middle ages many baptisteries were octagonal, so were many baptismal fonts inside the churches later on. Today the well inspires the unique aesthetic and atmosphere of Benediktushof’s gardens, through his sparkling, life-giving water.
The garden of the hidden well
In finishing the Japan inspired Zen gardens a large portion of the former monastery area that had been vacant was opened up. In June 2009 the garden was solemnly introduced. The garden designer Friedhelm Hellenkamp built the garden in multiple stages: First he worked on the frame, then the rocks and then on the greenery.
Framed by a disintegrating monastery wall, the hillside, and the dark edge of the forest with its individual large deciduous trees, this place seemed to be made for becoming a meditation garden, that integrated the surrounding area as an important part of its design.
The kind of garden that was made here has its origins in the monastery gardens of Japan. The first time a garden like this was seen was in the 14th century, its special feature being a representation of the sea and waterfalls through fine gravel. This revolutionary idea reached its climax in the highly abstract designs in meditation gardens of Ryoan-Ji and Daisen-In in Kyoto. The garden at Benediktushof uses the same principle, called kare-san-sui (hill-water-landscape). It was built to be seen from specific points of scenery of the garden and – like looking at an ink drawing – to be completed in our mind.
A Zen garden is not made for going on a walk in, but to be looked at. The main features, like rocks and pebbles, are always the same. Only the plants change with the seasons. The Japan inspired Zen garden should always depict inner beauty and should help the one looking at it on their search for truth, that can be found beneath many obstructing layers.
The climax of the garden is a waterfall, that is made of mighty shell limestones, that were degraded from around Würzburg. One massive slab is used as a bridge and is part of the route guidance of the garden. The river course goes from the source into the ocean, symbolized by white gravel, flows through the entire garden and ends at the rear exit of Zendo.
In harmony with the cloister and the gravel surface in front of Zendo, occidental Christian and far Eastern designs of the culture of silence are incorporated in harmony and point to the shared essence:
„The color of the mountains is Buddha’s body, the sound of running water is his great speach“
(Dogen 1200 – 1253)
Labyrinth at Benediktushof
The labyrinth of grass at Benediktushof is a classic Knidos labyrinth with seven circumnavigations. The symbol of the labyrinth is one of the oldest known to mankind. Labyrinths have a long tradition and are supposed to help us understand our complete being as a human. On the 14th November 2004 the labyrinth in the garden of Benediktushof was solemnly initiated by the founder of Benediktushof Willigis Jäger. The idea and implementation were made possible through Erwin Reißmann, Beatrice Grimm, as well as current course participants.
A symbol of our journey through life
A labyrinth is no maze. Labyrinths have a singular, entwined path, that leads from start to finish in the longest way possible. They are allegories for the human journey through life with its many changes in direction. Like the path through the labyrinth, our life journey takes us through intertwined paths, bends and twists, ups and downs, until, finally, we get to the middle of our life. You think you have reached the goal and then the path takes another turn – just like in real life.
Those who enter the labyrinth should do so with a mind that is open to entering a holy, timeless space. The labyrinth can help lead us to silence. Walking mindfully helps us take a step away from our thoughts, just like meditation. Everything else fades away and only the path one is walking matters. The labyrinth is an exercise of staying in one’s center with every new step. It is not the goal to reach the center of the labyrinth but to find one’s own center, which is always inside yourself. The labyrinth invites us to entrust ourself to it. It shows us the way to the essence of our life.
Garden of silence
After the Eastern wing had been rehabilitated and partly built anew in 2012, the question of how the property behind it should be designed begged to be answered. Since the Eastern wing inhabited mostly those courses that were held in silence, like Christian contemplation and Zen meditation, it seemed fitting to design a ‘garden of silence’. The garden is encompassed by the old monastery wall and has two levels.
On the upper level there is an herb garden that the kitchen of Benediktushof uses, on the lower level, around an old cherry tree, there is a big, round place, which is used for the daily walking meditation. In the rear area is a stone water trough, as well as multiple plant areas and seating accommodation. This is where guests of our house can retract themselves to and have a personal timeout. The entire garden is designed to let silence and peace radiate from it.