Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Monk’s Baths, St. Croix

One of my earliest memories of growing up here is going to see the Monk’s Baths in Frederiksted. I clearly remember going down the incline of death, and stepping into this HUGE pool of clear, warm water that I was going to drown in. I also remember the GIGANTIC waves that splashed over the baths and soaked my Dad and Mom.  I remember the feeling of being somewhere magical, somewhere where no one else was around, and somewhere that just had discovered. 
In reality, was that how the day went?  Probably not - I was younger than 5 and older than 3.  Somewhere in my childhood mind, this memory stuck. It actually faded into the background quietly for a LOONNGG time, but recently it has been popping up and nagging me. I think it was telling me that I needed to do it again and I needed to do it 1. soon and 2. with my kids.  So, since there is no day like today, I called/texted a bunch of my friends, my kid’s friends, and even some distant acquaintances to see if I could get a group to go with us. 

What are the Monk’s Baths you ask? Good question. They are not on any tour of the island, no reference is made to them in any literature that is given to visitors, they are not talked about, and there are only obscure reference made online to them. 

Aislin and her friends clowning around.
Here is what I remember my parents telling me.  WAY back in the 1600s, the Knights of Malta (click on the link for an interesting look at the Knights of Malta – a group still in existence today), a group of French monks who were commissioned by the King of France, lived on St. Croix and they had two “outposts”. One in Judith’s Fancy; and one in Frederiksted.  These monks, being cleanlier than regular people (cleanliness is next to godliness, maybe) decided that rather than bathing with fresh water – which was hard to get here - they would carve out some “Roman” types baths in the hard coral outcroppings along the beach in front of their monastery.  So with much hard work, and I am sure “praises” to God, they carved two rectangular baths into the hardened coral outcroppings, carved stone steps into the sides of the baths and “Viola! Zey had a baz for warshing!”(say it with a French accent, it’s quite amusing).

A few interesting side notes that I stumbled across when looking up the Knights of Malta: 1. They still exist as an organization and were created in 1085 to protect hospitals, not for fighting in the Crusades, 2. They made St. Croix profitable and used mainly Catholic indentured servants as slaves and then used enslaved Africans, and 3. It is thought by one historian, that they brought the Ark of the Covenant to St. Croix and hid it here. My Dad would have liked that last factoid.

Pretty cool, n’est pas? I mean, this stuff should be mentioned to tourists, it should be on some sort of guided island tour on cruise ship days, and it should at least be marked so that the intrepid tourist or newbie islander could stop and say: “oh, what’s this?” This is history that is accessible to everyone, the location is free for everyone to use and admire as it is on the beach, and all our beaches are public property, and it is really super neato (if for nothing less than the history alone)

We meet outside Rainbow Beach in F’sted at 9 and caravanned out to where I thought the Monk’s Baths were, we only had to stop once before I found the right spot. Went down the incline of death (JUST as I remembered!): 

After walking about 5 minutes north, this is what we found:


So, if you live here and haven’t been or are visiting, or planning a visit, the trip is well worth it.  To get to the Monk’s Baths you go out of Frederiksted going North, pass Spratt Hall, pass Butler Bay plantation, go around the curve (look out for the random pillars on the right hand side on the curve), go a bit further, and look for the sign on your right that says “Northside Valley”. Stop there just after the orange house on your left.  If you look carefully, you will see a 4X4 with ropes leading down the incline of death. 

Here is a video of the Baths both outside and in, as well as a review of what the girls thought of the Monk’s Baths. Listen to them, they are after all the experts on what is cool.  Excuse the choppiness of the video, I was trying to keep my balance. There is also some weird banging noise going on, no idea what that is from, but you will get a general idea of what the Baths are like.

Have a great week!

1 comment:

  1. I am so excited to try and find the Monk's Baths.. I stumbled upon another posting, but yours is so helpful and fun!! Thanks so much