Westmalle (abbey Our Lady of La Trappe of the Sacred Heart)

- History of the abbey - the origins

It is in the plains of the Antwerp’s “campine” that the monastery of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is located, on the territory of the town of Westmalle. Antwerp’s campine belongs to the low lands of Belgium, represented by sometimes green, sometimes sandy plains, which embraces the Flanders and the Belgian campine.

It is because of the French revolution that today we have the abbey of Westmalle. Indeed, the Revolution having removed all the monasteries in France, a group of monks of the French abbey of Our-Lady of La Grande Trappe had taken refuge in Switzerland. They came to the monastery of Val Sainte (Holy Valley), under the direction of Dom Augustin de Lestrange, in April 1791. It had been agreed, with the Senate of Freiburg that this community would not exceed twenty-four members. However, the applicants, attracted by the reputation of holiness of the exiled monks, came from everywhere, and it became necessary to think of creating new monasteries.

Dom Augustin wanted to expand in America, where Catholicism was progressing quickly. On August 28, 1793, three monks took to the road : Dom Jean Baptiste, responsible for the finances of Val Sainte; Dom Eugene de Laprade, formerly Page at the court of the king of France, Louis XVI, and who made its noviciate at Our Lady of La Grande Trappe in Soligny, before the revolution; and finally, a given Brother, Jean-Marie de Bruyne.

While they halted in Ghent, before their departure for America, the three monks contacted Monseigneur Nélis, the bishop of Antwerp. The bishop let them know that he would be very happy to have Trappists in his diocese, and asked them to establish there.

The monks, who had the role of going to America, and not to found a monastery in Belgium, consulted their abbot, who authorized them to answer the desires of the prelate.

A rich monger, Mr. De Wolf, then opened a subscription which made it possible to buy land favourable to the establishment of an abbey, only 16 Kilometers from Antwerp, close to Westmalle. It was known under the name of “Nooit Rust”, (“Restless”…), because its grounds were so difficult to cultivate. All was going to start then…

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