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The Orchard Sanctuary

By Penelope Naldrett. Posted on February 2, 2021 in Stories + Recipes

As I enter the Sanctuary, my voice drops to a whisper. While I am not a very religious person, I feel reverence for this sacred space. I immediately feel grounded and at peace. 

On this day, I have come with Martha Abelson, one of the history holders of Hollyhock. Martha, a former Shareholder, now Sharegiver to Hollyhock, came to Cortes Island pre-Hollyhock, when the centre was known as Cold Mountain. For over a decade Martha held a weekly meditation circle in the Sanctuary. She has witnessed many journeys of personal transformation, including her own, that have been shaped by the serenity of this special place. We have gathered here today because the Sanctuary is in great need of loving care – we need to rally the funds to replace the roof. Martha is here to help me tell the story.

The Orchard Sanctuary follows the round tradition of many buildings on the Hollyhock Campus – organic in nature and bringing focus to the centre, the heart. The vision for the Sanctuary was to build an inspiring place dedicated to meditation and quiet practice. That vision continues to this day as presenters and community alike find serenity through practicing meditation and healing arts, gently supported and held by the womb-like earthy room, immersed in the sounds of wild birds and the rustling of the trees.

The Sanctuary is made from natural materials from the land around Hollyhock – stones and driftwood from the beach, earth from the orchard. Architect and builder David Shipway described it as designed by nature, fluid in motion. His drawings set the tone and pattern, but the building evolved with the hands of community and gifts from the universe: a massive 700lb curved piece of driftwood from the beach became the lintel piece for the entrance, crystals embedded in the floor by children were used to ground the energy, and a Zen aesthetic was stewarded by Roshi Miyamai Shinzan, a visiting Zen master. Shinzan described the sanctuary with the Japanese words ansokujo, “a place of easy breath” and sei-do, “sacred place.”

Construction started in the spring of 1995, with a Hollyhock Work Exchange program of 6 volunteers who spent 2 months alongside Shipway and the Work Exchange Manager John Wittmayer. Along the way, Hollyhock Shareholders (now Sharegivers), Cortes Community Members, and Hollyhock presenters and guests lent a hand to build what to many became a holy place.

“As a group we remind ourselves regularly that the sanctuary building is really about creating an inner sanctuary within ourselves – a reflection of the outer one we are building of rocks, and earth and logs at Hollyhock.” – Glenn Raynor, Work Exchange Program, 1995

The Orchard Sanctuary was mostly built with volunteer labour and donations. When the summer came to the end, there was still work to be done and a deficit to cover the expenses. A call went out for another Work Exchange Program the following year, and fundraising to cover the expenses continued. Twenty-five years later, thousands of people have found solitude, quiet peace, and healing within the walls of the Sanctuary. 

This video from 1995 documents the early building of the Sanctuary:

As I step out of the Sanctuary, I feel a gentle breeze that carries the faint smell of apples from the Orchard. My heart feels more settled than it has in a long time. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the many people who came together to make this special place what it is, and I feel a quiet trust that with the support of our community, Hollyhock will continue to thrive, providing a much needed “place of easy breath.”

Earthen built structures can last 500 years with the right care and maintenance, however, it can be challenging to do in our beautiful but wet west coast rainforest. Currently the Sanctuary’s carefully crafted living green roof is leaking and raising concerns that the integrity of the building may be at risk. While Hollyhock has many needs in light of the global pandemic, the care of this sacred place needs to be a priority. Today we are launching a campaign to raise $50,000 by the end of March to replace the roof and make structural repairs that need to be completed this spring. I hope that you will join hands with us in community once again, thinking about your own time spent in the Sanctuary and on the Hollyhock campus, and make a gift that is meaningful to you. Thank you for your support.

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