The inspiration for our green burial caskets — the traditional values of farmsteads and monasteries through the ages: self-sustenance, a contemplative pace, hospitality, the elevation of manual labor, the preservation of traditions.
The green burial caskets workshop of Piedmont Pine Coffins is named after monks and monasteries. Melleray, from the Greek word meli, means “Place of Honey.” We call it Melleray partly for the honey our dear departed bees used to make, but also for a certain troupe of bold monks in 12th century France. A legend says that a group of Cistercian monks wandered in the wilderness of Brittany looking for terrain to start a new monastery. When they sat to rest under a tree and found a providential gift of honeycomb, they decided that was the spot, the place of honey, Melleray. Monasteries in Ireland and Iowa carry the name to this day.
Our hand-tool ethos and respect for labor in the manufacture of green burial caskets
Work has a special status here. We see manual labor as a chance to be mindful and aware. Aware of our physical presence as we bend and move, aware of our relation to the natural world, aware of the fragility of life and the shortness of time. In centuries past, hard-working monks were known to greet each other in the cloister with the Latin phrase frater memento mori (“Brother, remember your death.”) – an idea with clarifying power over our present awareness.
During the European Dark Ages, monasteries, they say, saved Western civilization by making copies in their scriptoria of treasured Classical texts inherited from Greece and Rome — a specialized, contemplative labor to be sure, copied by hand. At Piedmont Pine Coffins, we share that sense of preserving our roots — here through our emphasis on hand tools and respect for hard work in the construction of our green burial caskets. Incidentally, we also teach Latin and Greek here at the farmstead.
Life off the electrical grid at Melleray Farmstead, the cottage industrial home of Piedmont Pine Coffins
For the past nine years, joiner Don Byrne and his family have lived off the grid in a small cabin on the edge of the woods near Pittsboro, NC, with no electricity or indoor plumbing. The aim has been to practice hand-tool manufacturing of green burial caskets and hand-tool agriculture, all the while stewarding resources like water and forests.
This tiny house life is depicted in a book about Chatham County by Bill Powers, where Mr. Byrne and his father are the “Two Pauls”:
| and also in this podcast about uses of water at the farmstead:
Follow the Water