The Richmond Hill garden has a history as varied and distinguished as that of its gardeners. The walkway around the fountain marks the boundaries of the the first house built on this property. The “Old Mansion,” as the Sisters called it, was built by Richard Adams, Richmond’s largest landowner, in about 1785. The fountain itself was made in Italy and originally included a central column carved with the likenesses of St. Augustine and St. Francis de Sales.
Another piece of history left to us by the Sisters is the “shrine” in the rear corner of the garden. It was erected during the 1940’s in honor of the baby Jesus. A former Mother Superior had come to Monte Maria from nearby Wytheville when her monastery closed, bringing the altar and a statue of the Infant of Prague with her; and it was her idea to build the new shrine. When the Sisters moved to Rockville, Virginia, they took the altar and the statue with them but left the shrine for Richmond Hill to enjoy.
For the Sisters of the Visitation of Monte Maria, “community” wasn’t limited to the current residents of the monastery, or even to the monastery itself. Their community included all the Sisters of the past as well as the present. When a Sister passed away, she was buried in the rear of the garden with three white roses clasped in her hands. And when the monastery moved to Rockville, the Sisters relocated the old graves to their new property.
Besides the Sisters, various other residents came and went in the halls of Monte Maria. Father A. J. Van Ingelgem of Falls Church, Virginia, resigned his pastorate to become the Sisters’ first chaplain, and they built him a cottage along one wall of the garden. Today, that same cottage houses members of Richmond Hill’s residential community.
The Sisters also ran a girls’ school for the first sixty years of their residency here. Each student was given her own allotment of garden space for cultivation of her favorite plants.
Visit our garden today, and you’ll find yourself in a peaceful, walled world of fish ponds and fountains, bird baths and bowers. Our garden is a treasure, and we are happy to share the wealth.