Praying and working at Westmalle Abbey.
You may already be familiar with Westmalle beer, but much more than brewing goes on within the abbey walls. Our abbey is first and foremost a community of monks who pray and work every day.
The abbey is part of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, but many know us as Trappists. These pages will tell you more about where our order comes from – and what it stands for.
“It is a life of peace and contemplation, of prayer and labour.”
Monks have a very individual lifestyle, which is largely determined by the vows they take. It is a life of peace and contemplation, of prayer and labour.
For many, the life of a monk is shrouded in an air of mystery, yet the average day at our abbey is very clearly organised. To give you a little more insight into our motives and activities, we would like to take you on a journey of discovery through our community. Today and into the future.
We like to keep you informed about our activities and insights. You can regularly discover new stories from our abbey on our blog.
The roots of our community
Anyone who is introduced to Westmalle Abbey will quickly notice that the monks are called different things. Some say Cistercians, while others say Trappists. Many references are made to Saint Benedict, the founder of the Benedictines. Yet we are always talking about the same monks. The best way to understand all these terms is to delve into the history of our abbey, putting the traditions in which our community is rooted into context.
Westmalle Abbey’s full name is the Abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Westmalle. It belongs to the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance. That name refers to the French town of Cîteaux, where the Cistercian order was founded in 1098. Within every Cistercian community, solidarity and Christian charity are active daily tasks. This applies both within the community, where the monks live together in a very particular way, and to the outside world.
Cistercians of the Strict Observance have an entirely unique way of life. They live in a community in a fixed place – in this case Westmalle Abbey. They are devoted completely to God and follow the Rule of Saint Benedict, which establishes a life of prayer and work. The Cistercian community aims to be a school of brotherly love. The combination of liturgy, labour and brotherhood ensures that Christ lives in the hearts of the monks.
Traditionally, monks pray at all important times of the day, and even at night.
You are welcome to attend any of the prayer services. Here is a summary of the services you can attend.
Arrive at the gatehouse ten minutes before the service starts and sign in.
|Terce (morning prayers) + Eucharist||10.45 am||10.00 am|
|Sext (noon prayers)||–||12.15 pm|
|Noon (afternoon prayers)||2.00 pm||–|
|Vespers (evening prayers)||5.15 pm||4.00 pm|
|Compline (close of day)||7.30 pm||7.30 pm|
In addition to a life of prayer and work, the monks provide an essential service to the community. Anyone who finds silence and peace beneficial is welcome to spend a few days of reflection and prayer at the guesthouse. Participating in some of the monks’ daily prayers is an integral part of every stay.
Monastic life has deep roots. In the early 4th century, the first monks retreated to the deserts of the Middle East. Seeking a pure sense of God, they prayed and worked in seclusion. In the 5th century, Benedict of Nursia founded a monastery on Monte Cassino, a mountain south of Rome. He wrote a monastic rule based on the way of life of the first monks. He also gave his name to the monks who follow this rule: Benedictines.
By the 11th century, the enforcement of the Rule of St Benedict, as it had been laid down at Monte Cassino, had become rather lax. This was the belief of Robert of Molesme. As a result, he founded a new monastery at Cîteaux in Burgundy in 1098. The monks of the Order of Cîteaux became known as Cistercians over time. Under Bernard of Clairvaux, the order expanded in the 12th century. An influential preacher and author, Bernard had a great impact on Christian spiritual life.
Inspired by Abbot de Rancé, a reform of the Cistercian order took place at La Trappe Abbey in Normandy in the 17th century. The monks of this new order were called the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, but they are better known by the name ‘Trappists’, in reference to La Trappe Abbey
Fleeing the French Revolution, some Trappists decided to head for America in the late 18th century. When they stopped off in Antwerp on the way, the bishop persuaded them to stay. They took up residence in the Campine at a small farm aptly named Nooit Rust, or Never Rest. There in – you guessed it – Westmalle, they founded the monastery in 1794. As a result of their hard work, they were able to transform the barren moors and bogs into fertile farmland.