Located on the crest of Church Hill, the city's highest point, Richmond Hill offers an island of peace and quiet in the heart of downtown Richmond. It occupies two of the original "squares" laid out for the city of Richmond by William Byrd II and William Mayo in 1737. Byrd named the city "Richmond" because the view of the James River from this hill reminded him of the view of the Thames from Richmond Hill, near London, where he had been sent by his parents for most of his youth.
Two blocks away from Richmond Hill is St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry delivered his famous challenge, "Give me liberty, or give me death." It is this church which gave Church Hill its name. The property which houses our retreat facilities once hosted such notables as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and George Wyth.
The Sisters of the Visitation of Monte Maria called it home for 120 years, beginning in 1866. Today Richmond Hill still serves as a place of prayer, and our ecumenical Christian residential community welcomes visitors for individual and groups retreats. The library, chapel, and gardens are open to visitors every Tuesday through Saturday, and classes and retreats are available 12 months out of the year .(We are closed to retreats on Holy Days.)
Our refectory, located on the ground floor of the dormitory building, was originally a gymnasium for the students of the Monte Maria Academy. When the school closed in 1927, the floor was raised and the room was refurbished as a dining hall. The Sisters ate their meals in silence, while one of their number stood on a raised platform and offered a devotional reading to the group. Today, all retreatants, visitors, and Community members eat together in the Refectory. The residential Community and staff share kitchen duties.
The Library is located in the former parlors of the Monastery of the Sisters of the Visitation. This was the only place where public visitors could meet the cloistered sisters. The two screens separating the library rooms were the original parlor screens separating the sisters from the public. The library is available to anyone visiting Richmond Hill, with 4000 religious and spiritual volumes.
Richmond Hill offers overnight accommodations for 40 persons, groups and individuals. All rooms are either singles or doubles. The dormitory was originally constructed to house students of the Monte Maria Academy, but when the school closed, the Sisters moved into the building themselves. It is said that the Sisters would change sleeping quarters periodically so that they could meditate on the particular saint or virtue to which the room was dedicated. The move also prevented them from becoming attached to any one room.
The Adams-Taylor House
The English basement and second floor of the house comprise space for the residential Community of Richmond Hill. On the main floor are three small meeting rooms and three large ones. The Novitiate is a well preserved drawing room from 1811, which was later used as the Novitiate for the monastery. The Molly Tinsley Room is a restoration of the original second parlor of the mansion which Richard Adams Jr. built. The west meeting room is a new room built as a part of the 2002-2004 renovation on the footprint of a small porch and former print shop.
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.
The Chapel of the Sacred Heart was constructed in 1894 with the help of a $5,000 endowment from Mrs. Thomas Fortune Ryan. The Sisters renovated it in 1975, doing most of the preparatory work themselves. During this renovation, air conditioning was added and the ceiling was lowered to accommodate the ductwork. Eight of the original stained glass windows were hidden by the new ceiling and vinyl wall covering.
In 2004, the Chapel was restored to its original beauty, with its 33-ft. barrel-vaulted ceiling and 15 stained glass windows once again exposed. All ductwork is now hidden in the walls and floor. The walls have been restored as well, with the original hand stenciled borders complete with intricate gold leaf detail.
The chapel is L-shaped. During the Sisters' tenure here, it was divided into two separate sections for religious community and visitors. The Sisters sat in stalls facing one another, hidden behind a thin lattice. Prior to 1975, black curtains were also used to mark off the space, known as the "Sisters' Choir," but these were drawn back during services. The lattice and curtain are gone today and the altar is round to represent the inclusivity of Richmond Hill. The chapel still has most of its original stained glass.
Today, the Richmond Hill community still uses the chapel three times a day as we pray for the healing of Metropolitan Richmond. In addition, every Tuesday beginning at 5:30 p.m. we offer a full worship service with communion.