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Rare film of Abbey of Gethsemani restored by Bellarmine’s library

Sep 08, 2017

A short sample of the film.
Bellarmine University's library has restored a rare, 80-year-old video of the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Ky. 
The 7 1/2-minute film appears to have been made in 1936, five years before celebrated author and monk Thomas Merton arrived at Gethsemani. It includes extensive footage of the landscape and buildings at Gethsemani, along with glimpses of daily life, including monks working on Gethsemani's grounds.
Brother Lawrence Morey, Gethsemani's archivist, said the film is an "invaluable addition to our historical records. It is not only a piece of history, but a very real reminder to the monks here of the deep meaning of the ground we walk on and the buildings we live in."
In 2008, Dr. John Stemmer, director of Bellarmine's W. L. Lyons Brown Library, found the film in a file cabinet in the tower of Horrigan Hall during a visit alongside the Rev. Clyde Crews, the university's historian.
"The film was badly deteriorating without proper climate control, so I moved it to the library's archives, along with several other films and photographs that were in the cabinet," he said.
It's not clear why, or for how long, the film was stored in the Horrigan tower. Stemmer believes it was part of a small collection of home movies filmed by Benjamin Robertson, a local businessman and philanthropist, and later given to Bellarmine by his son, the Rev. Vernon Robertson. 
In 2016, Stemmer secured a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to restore the silent, black-and-white film and convert it to DVD. Cracks and other deterioration on the original film are evident in the restored version. The DVD is available to view in Bellarmine's library; the original film reel is in the library's archive. Copies of the DVD are being sent to the Abbey of Gethsemani and the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Stemmer says the library holds several other film reels that he believes were created by Robertson around the same era, including two more he hopes to restore: an undated Catholic Church processional in Louisville and footage of the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines in 1937.
Bellarmine has a significant connection to Gethsemani through Merton, whose writing, photographs and drawings are housed in Bellarmine's Thomas Merton Center. Additionally, the university's faculty, students and staff are regular visitors to Gethsemani for spiritual retreats and educational opportunities.

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