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Exploring Kentucky: The Kentucky Faith Trail

New attraction welcomes people of all faiths to explore a journey of discovery

By Katherine Tandy Brown

Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral

A state deeply rooted in faith, family and spirituality, Kentucky recently unveiled its newest treasure, the Kentucky Faith Trail. A transformative, self-guided tour, this pilgrimage meanders through some of the commonwealth’s most sacred and significant sites of faith, culture and history. From the Trappist monks near Bardstown and the Shakers in Western Kentucky to the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, the Creation Museum in Petersburg and the meetinghouses that sparked revivals across the state, each of 11 curated stops narrates its own compelling story of faith, resilience and unity. Along the way, visitors will discover that all have come together to reveal the importance of rock-solid faith in the state’s roots and thus, in its identity.

Following are “teasers” for a few of the sacred sites that await on Kentucky’s newest trail.

Abbey of Gethsemani

(monks.org)

A 2,000-acre working farm and Trappist monastery, the Abbey has welcomed guests since its inception in 1848. Beloved spiritual writer Thomas Merton served here from 1941 until his death in 1968.

Unstructured silent retreats are arranged by reservation. One monk serves as guest master for retreatants, who may also speak in counsel with a priest during their stay. Day guests and retreatants may attend daily services, hike on miles of trails through the scenic, hilly Knobs country, watch a film at the visitors center about monastic life, and purchase monk-made cheeses, fruitcake and bourbon-laced fudge. If you’re not a fruitcake fan, the monks may change your mind!

Ark Encounter
(arkencounter.com)

Ark Encounter

An engineering marvel, the Ark Encounter features a full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to dimensions in the Bible: 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high. Features include animal encounters, extreme ziplining, camel rides and concerts. And, in partnership with its sister attraction, the Creation Museum (located 40 miles away), there are conferences, educational programs from a biblical worldview, camps, and “off-campus” excursions such as a dinosaur dig in Montana and a fossil hunt in Ohio.
You must see this replica to take in its enormous presence, and you’ll wonder how any construction that size could have been built back then.

Creation Museum
(creationmuseum.org)

This $27-million, 75,000-s.f. museum takes visitors on a journey through biblical history. In addition to a 2,000-seat special-effects theater, the museum offers changing exhibits, a children’s zoo, botanical gardens, a planetarium, speaker presentations, and workshops.

Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral
(stjosephbasilica.org)

Now a National Historic Landmark, St. Joseph was erected in 1816-1819, becoming the first proto-cathedral (a Catholic church that was formerly a cathedral of the diocese) in the United States west of the Alleghenies, and served the Diocese of Bardstown, which at the time included 10 states. The cathedral is known for its exquisite art collection.

Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption
(covcathedral.com)

Located in Covington, this cathedral is an awe-inspiring symbol of the Catholic faith, built in gorgeous Gothic design. The façade was fashioned after Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Explore its intricate architecture, ogle the world’s largest stained-glass windows, and bask in its rich spiritual energy.

Old Mulkey Meeting House State Historic Site
(parks.ky.gov/parks/find-a-park)

Old Mulkey Meeting House State Historic Site

Built in 1804, the Old Mulkey Meeting House is the oldest freestanding meetinghouse in Kentucky. The structure marks the site where John Mulkey stepped out in faith in 1809 to lead Mill Creek Baptist Church toward “New Testament” Christianity. His step forever changed the face of religion in south-central Kentucky.
Today visitors can locate the Kentucky state rock (agate), hike the .7-mile Jackson Memorial Trail, spot sandhill cranes and Canada geese in the wintertime and more birds all year long, or simply revel in the site’s peace and quiet.

Red River Meeting House
(rrmh.org)

This is a replica on the site of the nation’s first religious camp meeting, held in June 1800. The meeting marked the start of the Second Great Awakening, a major national religious movement in the 18th century. Church services are now held monthly on first Sundays with varying speakers.

South Union Shaker Village
(southunionshakervillage.com)

Immerse yourself in the utopian world of the Shakers. Explore the beautifully constructed and well-preserved buildings while learning about the Shaker lifestyle, which was based on simplicity and faith. Founded in 1807, South Union was once a thriving community with 225 structures before the group developed financial problems and disbanded in 1922. At South Union, you’ll see nine of the original structures on 500 acres of farmland and learn all about this fascinating religious sect.

Abbey of Gethsemeni

Birthed from a collaboration between religious communities, historians and religious experts, the Kentucky Faith Trail is the result of a partnership between MeetNKY (Northern Kentucky’s tourism organization), Bardstown/Nelson County Tourism, Harrodsburg/Mercer County Tourism, Logan County Tourism, Monticello/Wayne Country Tourism, Grant County Tourism, and Monroe County Tourism.

The creation of this new attraction is a testament to Kentucky’s commitment to promoting religious tolerance, understanding and cultural appreciation. The Trail is designed to be inclusive, welcoming all people of all faiths and backgrounds to embark on a shared, open-minded journey of discovery, reflection and faith-strengthening.

In addition to providing an opportunity for spiritual growth, the Kentucky Faith Trail offers travelers an invitation to linger in the towns that are home to these sacred sites and get to know their personalities, attractions and perhaps even a few residents. Spiritual connections can always help grow a better world.
For more information, visit kentuckyfaithtrail.com. Check the website for news on its digital passport, which is coming soon, and find out how you can qualify for prizes at its varied stops.