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

- History of the abbey - the foundation

Dom Augustin did not lose sight of his project of foundation in America. On April 12, 1794, he sent forth a colony of monks under the control of Dom Arsene, who was to stop in Westmalle and take the management of the community so that Dom Jean Baptiste could continue his trip to America. Dom Arsene was ordered to keep seven or eight monks in Westmalle. June 6, 1794, is the “official” date of the founding of the monastery of Westmalle. The new foundation was to include approximately twelve members. The Trappists were hardly installed when they had to leave in front of the French Armies, invading Belgium. They took refuge in monasteries in Westphalia.

Westmalle remained abandoned for seven years. In 1802, a time when Napoleon I was benevolent toward the monks, Dom Augustin sent some monks from Darfeld to restore the monastery. This was tolerated by the French government.

On July 28, 1811, by a famous decree, the Emperor removed the Trappists in all the extent of his states; those of Westmalle thus had to disperse again. However, the real goods of the monastery were preserved and three monks, wearing secular clothes, continued to look after the interests of the foundation.

These three monks could remain thanks to the intervention of the mayor of Westmalle, Mr. Delen and of the Baron Pierre de Caters, banker of Antwerp.

The date of August 21, 1814, marked the final return of the monks to Our Lady of the sacred Heart. An era of prosperity then started. Westmalle was the first monastery of Belgium restored after the revolution.

Under the Dutch occupation from 1815 to 1830, Catholics were abused in Belgium. In 1818, a decree of the government prohibited the contemplative orders, tolerated the teaching orders, and accepted only the hospital orders. Moreover, the number of monks in a community was limited to twenty.

Westmalle had the privilege to keep forty monks and to have its monastery legitimated.

In 1836, the monastery which was yet only priory, was raised by the pope Gregoire XVI, to the grade of Abbey. The first abbot was Dom Martin, who became general vicar of the Trappists in Belgium. It is under the time he was abbot that Saint Sixtus passed under the authority of Westmalle, in 1836.

The years passed in relative prosperity. In 1934, an immense new brewery was built, with the most modern installations. The goal was to develop the production of beer which, for hundred years, had been made only for the monks.

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The abbey around 1829

The abbey around 1885

The brewery around 1900