From Dwelling to Indwelling: Thomas Merton’s Experience of Saint Antonin-Noble-Val


  • Elizabeth Mary Rainsford-McMahon University of LyonENS de Lyon




this article seeks to explore the powerful impact of a landscape experienced as a child on Franco-American Trappist monk, Thomas Merton (1915-1968) and later recalled in memory. It focuses on the village of Saint Antonin-Noble-Val in the Aveyron valley, South West France. Merton, who was born further South in the town of Prades in the foothills of the Pyrenees lived in Saint Antonin-Noble-Val between the ages of 11 and 13, from 1926 to 1928. Merton’s own claims for this place are powerful. Speaking from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, USA., Merton described the town as containing ‘my whole life’ and all he had ever known. It ‘saved him’, leaving him ‘mortally homesick’. The impossibility of revisiting the village was ‘the only real sacrifice’ of his life as a monk. By exploring his experience of dwelling in the village and later being indwelt by the memory, I shall sketch the character of the place, tracing its location or place on the map, its locale or physical shape and character, and its sense of place. I shall then present Merton’s experience of Saint Antonin-Noble-Val including his interpretive reflections on place, alongside those of contemporaneous thinkers with whom Merton claimed kinship: Gaston Bachelard, Flannery O’Connor, Simone Weil, Martin Heidegger and François Mauriac. Finally, having presented the place, with the life it contained, and the varied interpretations on the nature of place, by human geographers, novelists and spatial theorists, I shall close by exploring the shift between dwelling and indwelling, referring to Cistercian perspectives, and by concluding that memory, bound to a given place, is a powerful, multi-layered and transforming reality. 


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