PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshires in western Massachusetts, like much of the original Colonies, have strong ties to faith.
“The Berkshires is an ideal group destination,” said Lindsey H. Schmid, director of marketing for the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. Less than three hours from New York City and Boston, faith-based tours in the area are complemented by other trending tour themes including culinary, history and nature tours.
Stockbridge was settled by English missionaries, led by Rev. John Sergeant. The Mission House was relocated and now stands in town as a small museum commemorating the era. Sergeant’s successor, Rev. Jonathan Edwards, was an important American theologian associated with the First Great Awakening. Edwards wrote his great treatise Freedom of the Will while serving in Stockbridge. Both men served the First Congregational Church, which was organized in 1734 and is still an active part of the community.
The Shakers, a Christian sect formed in England, arrived in the Colonies in 1774.
One of their first settlements was established in Hancock, where as many as 300 lived until the mid-19th century. The Shakers were as well known then as they are today for their distinctive furniture and fine crafts.
Hancock Shaker Village is a living history museum maintained on the site of the original settlement. In addition to learning more about Shaker history, groups can step into the daily lives of the Shakers by visiting the buildings in which they worked and lived in the “City of Peace.” A highlight is a candle-lit Shaker Supper, served in the Believers’ Dining Room.
In the mid-20th century, the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy was established on 350 acres of property formerly occupied by the original Mission House of Stockbridge’s settlers. Woodworkers, stonemasons and stained-glass artists created the shrine. The spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage to the shrine is enhanced by walking paths. Life-size, bronze Stations of the Cross statues have been installed along a landscaped walkway; there are more than 50 life-size sculptures.