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Kentucky’s Faith Encounters

Kentucky’s lush green hills and wooded escapes have drawn various religious groups over the years, from the innovative Shakers who once populated Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill to the modern-day Amish community of Marion. Some travelers seek spiritual respite at the beautiful Trappist monastery of Gethsemani near Bardstown, as well as at the full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark at Ark Encounter.

Creation Museum and Ark Encounter

Petersburg and Williamstown

Opened in 2007, the Creation Museum has quickly established itself as one of Kentucky’s signature religious attractions. Based on the biblical Book of Genesis, the museum examines the nature of Earth’s origin from a creationist standpoint.   

Approximately 45 minutes away, the Ark Encounter displays a towering 510-foot-long timber ark that was built according to dimensions described in the biblical story of Noah and the flood. The ark spans roughly the length of one and a half football fields.

Mark Looy, chief spokesperson for the attraction, described how he enjoys hearing the audible gasps on the shuttle when the ark comes into view.

“It’s jaw-droppingly big,” said Looy. “And it’s even more impressive as you walk inside.”

The gigantic timber structure contains three decks of colorful exhibits and educational videos, which can take up to three hours to explore. Afterward, guests can grab a bite to eat at the 1,500-seat buffet-style restaurant or stop by the Ararat Ridge Zoo next door to see exotic creatures like zebras, kangaroos and Tibetan yak.

Plans are in the works to create a world city reminiscent of the diverse Middle Eastern culture in which Noah would have lived.

Abbey of Gethsemani


Nestled amid 1,200 acres of charming, wooded property near Bardstown, the Abbey of Gethsemani has been a staple of Kentucky culture and history for over 150 years. French Trappist monks founded the abbey in 1848 after fleeing political turmoil in Europe, making it the oldest abbey in the United States. Today, many people know the site as the former home of celebrated Kentucky author, poet and social activist Thomas Merton. In 1948, Merton penned his autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” considered one of the most influential spiritual works of the 20th century.

Though visitors cannot enter the monastery itself, they are welcome to stop by the welcome center and the church, where a community Mass and other services are held throughout the day. At the welcome center, guests can watch a 35-minute film about Gethsemani’s monastic community, called “One Day,” and pick up a souvenir of homemade Kentucky bourbon fruitcake or salted caramel fudge, which the monks also sell online to support the abbey. Groups can pick up a map of the property at the welcome center to explore the surrounding trail system.

According to Brother Luke, one of the abbey’s residents, a spiritual hunger and curiosity often draw people, especially those seeking a respite from their daily routines.