Sanctuary House
History of Sanctuary House
© 2013 Sanctuaryhouse
Sanctuary House began in the Roaring Fork Valley in 1987, when William and Barbara were married, though the concrete vision of Sanctuary didn’t come until 1989.   The Howells, having a home on a hilltop overlooking 40 miles of the Rocky Mountains in Snowmass, Colorado, took in overflow retreatants from St. Benedict’s Monastery at the end of the Capital Creek Valley.  Many others also came for retreat, and many returned more than once.  By 1990, a meditation/ prayer chapel was begun, the Howells’ first building event.  Fr. Theophane ceremonially consecrated Sanctuary House as a chapel on Barbara's 50th birth anniversary the next year in the company of 80 friends, with Fr. Thomas Keating offering a Mass. In 1994, after 8 years of hosting lamas, yogis and sheikhs and taking in retreatants, the Howells and Sanctuary House were drawn to Crestone, an international spiritual community in the San Luis Valley, a very rural place of power and beauty and silence.  After two years of discernment, by late 1995, William and Barbara knew they wanted to have a Sanctuary House facility.   Along with an exact replica of the dromenon (labyrinth) of Chartres Cathedral, Sanctuary House offered three retreat apartments and four shrine rooms:  Jewish/Christian in the South, Buddhist/Zen in the West, Hindu/Vedic in the North and Sufi/Muslim in the East.  In 1997, William’s mother Laverne, at age 84, came to live at Sanctuary House, loving the vision of sanctuary until she made a fine passing in 2001. 1999 saw all that had been started in 1996 being completed in order to receive "our first retreatant," Shri Punitachariji Maharaj ('Bapu') who had made his only trip outside of India.  Bapu consecrated the Hindu/Vedic shrine room and gave an unparalleled 5-day retreat here in Crestone.  Bokhar Rinpoche had consecrated the BuddhistI-Zen shrine room in1996 just as the first log posts were being put into the ground.  In 1998, the nunks and monks of the Spiritual Life Institute blessed the Jewish-Christian shrine room and,in 2000, Sheika Fariha Fatima al- Jerrahi consecrated the Sufi-Muslim shrine room.   Trinity House was built as a home for the founders and the Garden House, constructed in 1997-98, where the Howells had lived, became Rodney Volkmar’s home, the guest-master and care-taker of what was now a shared vision. In 2001, Rodney and William poured the labyrinth of Chartres in the center of the retreat compound (the forms having taken a year and a half to create).  The 30' yurt, which housed the larger meetings for Sanctuary House and the community, was erected that September. In 2002, Rodney and William built 'the garden kutir,' a passive-solar adobe/straw-bale house (off the grid) with root cellar. And in 2003, that project was completed, along with a 33' growing dome for sustainable planting year round.  Sanctuary House, the premiere strawbale event in Crestone, representing the unity and diversity of all the spiritual paths that are represented in this unique community, had taken 8 years to complete. In the spring of 2003, William and Barbara felt they were complete with this vision and their expression. Given Barbara's difficulty with the altitude and the expanding responsibilities of this growing retreat center, the Howells decided to downsize, putting the land and facilities that had for 8 years been known and respected as Sanctuary House up for sale.  In September of 2004, Humanity in Unity (the service organization around a universal spiritual teacher named Chalanda Sai Ma) finalized their purchase. The Howells had prayed for someone to take this facility to its next level--and also keep it open to the public. The Howells and Sanctuary House have been drawn to India, to Costa Rica , to California and back to Crestone. Clearly Sancutary House is no longer about a specific place or retreat center, but about living in the world as Sanctuary. For two years, being in an intense healing mode, the Howells have been discernment new directions for Sanctuary House and the next steps on their own journeys.  They are open to the call.