Averbode Abbey

Another wonderful day spent with the Norbertine community! We left Brussels bright and early this morning and made the hour-and-a-half drive to the village of Averbode, home to the abbey of the same name.

Like the abbeys we’ve visited previously, Averbode has ancient roots; it was founded in 1135. The oldest remaining portion is the gatehouse, built at the end of the 14th century. The original church, and a large portion of the abbey, were destroyed in a lightning strike and subsequent fire in 1499.

Of the abbey’s newer structures (if centuries-old ones can be called that!) there are two 17th-century buildings that especially impressed me. One is a charming old wash house where the abbey’s laundry is done. It is completely original and dates to 1623. (see photo)

Even more striking is the abbey’s Baroque church, completed in 1672. The graceful curves of its entrance reminded me of the buildings in Brussels’ Grand Place. Those were home to businesses and guilds, however, while this was built for entirely different purposes.

Which is not to say that the Norbertines don’t have business on their minds at least part of the time. Virtually all abbeys have undertaken various enterprises to support themselves through the centuries. Many (like the ones we visited in Tongerlo and Grimbergen) became renowned brewers; others established bakeries, or made cheese.

Averbode, beginning in the 19th century, distinguished itself as a printer. That business thrived for over 100 years, until just before the turn of this century, when modern technologies flexed their muscles and the printing business was sold.

As we toured the rest of the abbey, I was especially moved by a walk down the cloister hallways, so rich with the history of the place. Portraits of past abbots line the walls, a reminder to me of how enduring faith is. There is even history underfoot; tiled crosses inset into the floors mark the burial places of abbey Norbertines from centuries long past. You do feel part of something very ancient and sacred.

But this place is not only about the past. The Norbertine heritage is alive and well today, and all signs are that it will be tomorrow: our tour guide, Philip, is a Norbertine novice who will enter the priesthood in August.

After our trip to Averbode, we made our way to the beautiful city of Dinant, from which we will set out tomorrow for Leffe Abbey.