High spirits: Religious sanctuary abounds in these mountains.

By Sean McAlindin

I was living with ghosts. I’d seen therapists, exorcists and shamans, healers and drug dealers, but the thoughts persisted. By then, I was desperate. Raised a Catholic, long since lapsed, I drove through the Berkshires up Eden Hill to The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, searching for penitence. I waited patiently for Father to take my confession. I held nothing back. He sent me inside to recite a special prayer—a chaplet. 

“After you’re done, linger a little longer than usual,” he suggested.

Within the Shrine, the energy is profound. Holy candles burn amongst hand-carved wooden arches, saintly sculptures and stained glass windows. I took my time and prayed—for real this time—as the sound of heavenly music filled my soul. 

Over the next few weeks, the dark, heavy weight somehow lifted. I’d been forgiven, or maybe I’d finally forgiven myself. Either way, I was free.

“Pilgrims feel that when they come to the top of Eden Hill, there is a special presence and they are closer to God,” says communication director for the Shrine Dr. Joe McAleer. “They’re reminded of his mercy and that anything they’ve done can be forgiven with his help. It’s ‘a little bit a paradise’ high above Stockbridge.”

While my recovery from depression was a long and winding road, it somehow led me here. And it made me wonder—what other spiritual sanctuaries are hiding from us, here in and around the mountains? 

Mahayana Buddhist Temple

South Cairo, NY

Sunlight bends graciously through the surrounding forest as I wander the temple grounds with my daughter, Penelope. We round the pond looking for orange koi reflected in the sprawling gardens and traditional Chinese architecture. We’re entranced by hundreds of golden statues ruminating from within its sacred walls. Penelope lights incense in the seven-story Jade Buddha Pagoda and burns her fingers. Tears fall like rain as we journey onward. 

Karma Triyana Dharmachakra

Woodstock, NY 

Colorful prayer flags guide our way home from an afternoon hike to the abandoned Overlook hotel and fire tower. Back on the Tibetan Buddhist temple grounds, Penelope spins prayer wheels before a yellow-pink sun. The spiritual energy at the home of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa is as clear as the mountain vistas that go on forever.

Bodhivastu Meditation Retreat and Healing Sanctuary

Big Indian, NY

Bodhivastu means “awakened landscape.” Deep in the Catskill Mountains, this retreat’s shrines, stupas, statues, ponds and gardens come alive with meditation, prayer and mind training. 

“Since the time of Native Americans, it’s been a peaceful gathering site,” says spiritual director Lama Rangbar. “People are welcome to come and gain the blessing of a place with a long history of transformation and world peace.”

Won Dharma Center

Claverack, NY

The mission of the Won Dharma Center is to create a world free from suffering by cultivating mindfulness. The 426-acre campus along State Route 23 is known for panoramic views, organic food, meditation, yoga and qigong for serious practitioners, or those who are simply curious about this Korean school of Buddhism which stands for “circle.”

Sivananda Yoga Ranch

Woodbourne, NY

The pristine ashram founded in 1974 by Swami Vishnudevananda provides immersion into the yogic life within the natural beauty of the southern Catskills. Simple living and vegetarian meals quiet the mind for meditation, Vedanta philosophy, asana (yoga), pranayama (breathing), kirtan (chanting) and karma yoga (service) based in a Hindu tradition. 

Masjid Al Noor

Wappingers Falls, NY

Founded in the early 1960s by a dedicated group of young families who started off meeting within one another’s homes to hold weekly prayer services, the Mid-Hudson Islamic Association built this beautiful mosque in 1990 to provide a space for the local community to gather and learn about the sacred faith of Islam. 

Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center

Falls Village, CT

Tucked away on 400 acres in the Connecticut Berkshires, this rustic branch of the Adamah organization hosts year-round retreats focused on Jewish holidays, farm-to-table food, music, meditation and yoga. Their Passover program is open to the public from April 22 to May 1. 

Holy Cross Monastery

West Park, NY

With a quiet openness arising out of a balanced life grounded in the rhythm of regular worship, a Benedictine religious community welcomes 3,000 guests each year for spiritual retreats.

Peace Pod Park

Catskill, NY

It’s a sunny Sunday as we walk the Hudson River Skywalk from Olana State Historic Site. Seagulls soar above and cargo ships chug below as we cross the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

“Watch me, Daddy!” Penelope yells as she runs off toward the hanging horizon.

Before we reach Thomas Cole’s house on the other side of the river, we sit on benches for a snack in a secret garden. This interfaith place of peace was created by Rabbi Zoe B. Zek of the nearby Temple Israel of Catskill whose vision is to fill the park with peace poles made by the many houses of worship throughout the region.

Zen Mountain Monastery

Mount Tremper, NY

Welcome to the home of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism set at the confluence of the Esopus and Beaverkill creeks. Established by John Daido Loori Roshi who developed the “Eight Gates of Zen,” this mountainside monastery teaches a unique approach of Zen training for Western students.

Blue Cliff Monastery

Pine Bush, NY

Nestled on Mindfulness Road in the southern Catskills, this spiritual center was founded by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, peace activist and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. The Great Togetherness Meditation Hall built in 2008 can accommodate up to 800 people for meditations and teachings.

Dai Bosatsu Zendo

Livingston Manor, NY

High in the heart of the central Catskills on the banks of Beecher Lake, a Zen Buddhist monastery veiled amid 1,400 acres of forest and meadows provides residential training and guided retreats.

Hudson Islamic Center

Hudson, NY

The center in downtown Hudson was established in 1997 to serve and educate the community through daily prayer, service and Qur’an study.

Tendai Buddhist Institute East

Chatham, NY

A roadside temple in the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition hosts meditation, dharma talks and potluck dinners every Wednesday evening.

Kunzang Palchen Ling

Red Hook, NY

Drawing from the “Treasure” lineage of eastern Tibet, this Tibetan Buddhist Center offers retreats, classes, pujas and meditation.

Serve Love Ashram

Ellenville, NY 

Founded in 2020, this 60-acre ashram welcomes swamis from the holy city of Vrindavan, India to share their teachings of pure “bhakti,” Sanskrit for devotion.

Saint Mary & Pope Kyrillos VI Coptic Monastery

Esopus, NY

Known for its history of martyrdom and role in early Christian theology, the Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in the first century A.D. by New Testament author Mark the Evangelist. Its monastery on the banks of the Hudson River offers daily services and retreats. 

Brooklyn Zen Center

Millerton, NY

The Millerton Zendo and nearby Ancestral Heart Temple offer “zazen” meditation and work study. 

Vivekananda Retreat

Ridgely Stone Ridge, NY

This simple and serene center for Vedanta study was founded by Swami Vivekananda on the estate of Francis Leggett.

Babaji Kali Thandava Temple

Grahamsville, NY

A small temple to Divine Mother Kali Devi sheltered in the southern Catskills provides worship and prayers on Saturdays at midnight, and asana and chanting on Sunday mornings.


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