CAMBRIDGE, Mass. , Aug 18(AP) — Just blocks away from the bustling heart of this city, a community of monks offers a silent escape from it.
The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an order of Episcopal brothers, has kept a guesthouse at its monastery for decades to give outsiders a place to unplug and relax in a place of deep, serene quiet.
Behind the stone walls, idle chatter is taboo. Cellphone calls are to be taken outside, or not at all. Signs posted throughout the house ask guests to respect the quiet.
It all acts as a counterweight to the hurry-scurry of Harvard Square around the corner, where crowds of tourists jostle with Ivy League academics amid the clamor of street performers, vendors and the thrum of traffic.
On the edge of that worldly world, the black-cloaked brothers say their goal is to offer spaces of silence and simple comfort.
"It's a place of sanctuary where you can be safe, and you can actually unpack what may be the jumble of your life," said Brother Curtis Almquist, one of the resident monks.
The meditative hush of the monastery is popular with parish groups on retreat, but guests come for reasons both religious and otherwise.
Many skip the chapel's worship services to dive into a novel or a nap. A few visitors have confided to the brothers that they mostly needed a place to stay for a conference.
"We're delighted to welcome them," Almquist said. "I think life is full of very mixed motives all the time."
Visits can last an hour or for days. No bill slips under the door on the way out, but visitors are requested to pay a suggested fee of $100 per night, or $50 for students. Meals are provided by the monastery, including occasional "talking meals" with the brothers, a time when the floodgates of banter fly open.
Upstairs, the guestrooms are spartan, a throwback to when those carpeted corridors housed the living quarters for the brothers.
Each door is labeled with the name of a saint or apostle, and opens into a narrow room with the bare essentials: a single bed, a desk and little else. Private bathrooms are down the hall.
There's more space to stretch out in the elegant common rooms and the library, or the garden and its patio, patterned with stones of deep blue.
On her regular retreats, Amy Jones spends hours in the solace inside, but also ventures out to walk around Harvard Square or stop at her favorite frozen-yogurt shop.
She first visited while living in the nearby town of Brookline, soon after finishing her undergraduate years at Yale University. Now, as a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, she returns about twice a year for week-long stays.
"I think it's the silence, the slowness, the ritual," Jones said. "It's a place where you can slow down."
Sitting along a crook of the Charles River, the monastery is a physical marvel, too.
The chapel, designed by renowned New England architect Ralph Adams Cram, is an echo of early Christian basilicas, with interior pillars and arches, marble floors and a stone canopy stooping over the altar.
Notable guests drawn to the monastery include poet T.S. Eliot, who was a regular at worship services while he taught at Harvard in 1931. According to one account, Eliot even had a "mystical experience" that briefly left him in a trance of sorts — face down near the altar.
Another historian noted in 1934 that, during exam time, Harvard students would flock to the monastery for its "spiritual privileges."
Today, the brothers hold several daily services that guests can attend. For a memorable way to punctuate the day, guests can observe the brothers as they meet just before bedtime to chant their prayers in a sort of otherworldly lullaby before filing out in silence.
Although the brothers are meticulous about their quiet, they aren't bound by it — they speak when there's something to say. But they believe there's a rejuvenating quality to the silence, and see evidence in their guests. Upon departing, many report that they feel refreshed and ready for the fray outside.