Towering over St Augustine with phenomenal views of the south of Trinidad coast to coast is the Mount St Benedict Monastery. An eye-catching network of white-walled, red-roofed buildings dominating the hillside, the monastery was established in 1912 by Benedictine monks fleeing religious persecution in Brazil. The first of its kind in the Caribbean, the monastery initially consisted of nothing more than a mud-walled, thatch-roofed ajoupa at the peak of Mount Tabor; additional buildings were added over the years, including in 1918 a gorgeous burnt-orange central tapia house, now slowly crumbling. With a boxy steeple tower forming the tallest portion of the complex, at 243m above sea level, the imposing church was consecrated as an abbey in 1947. In keeping with their motto “ora et labora” (prayers and work), the ten (now ageing) resident monks maintain an estate of coffee, cocoa, citrus and planted forest, as well as producing delicious yoghurt for domestic use and commercial sale. Mount St Benedict houses the Caribbean’s main regional training college for priests, the St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs Seminary, which is also UWI’s theology faculty. Nearby St Bede’s Vocational School is also run by the monks, who teach local youngsters practical skills such as machining, welding, plumbing and carpentry. Though firmly a centre of Catholic study and worship, the site nonetheless remains inclusively Trinidadian, with Spiritual Baptists and Hindus undertaking pilgrimages here at different times of the year.
For a panoramic view of Trinidad that surpasses even the vistas at the monastery, take the Alben Ride trail just before the final monastery buildings and climb the fire tower, built to give warning of blazes in the plantations below.