At Leffe Abbey

This morning we arrived at Leffe Abbey in beautiful Dinant for 10:30 Mass. Mass was held in an intimate stone chapel on the grounds, because the abbey church is undergoing restoration. (see photos)

Frankly, it’s a minor miracle that there is even anything here to restore.

The abbey was founded in 1240. In 1400, the Plague swept the area, claiming the lives of the abbot and many members of the order.

Then, in 1460, the abbey was all but destroyed by a devastating flood. Just six years later, a fire set by the forces of the Duke of Burgundy all but finished the job the flood began.

Rebuilt yet again, the abbey was severely damaged by occupying troops in the early 18th century. Finally, during the French Revolution, the abbey was looted, the Norbertines were driven into exile, and the state took over the abbey.

It wasn’t until 1902 that the Norbertines were able to return.

The French Revolution had claimed more than the Norbertines’ ancient home; it also brought the destruction of Leffe’s centuries-old brewery.

In 1952, though, Abbot Nys, seeking to address the abbey’s financial difficulties, approached a local brewer about reviving the abbey’s cherished beer recipes. A partnership was forged, and today, Leffe is one of the most popular of the Belgian abbey beers. We shared a glass this afternoon with the current abbot, Bruno DeMoulin, O.Praem. – a personable and gracious host (and a very funny man).

As we later toured the grounds, we were taken past a beautiful garden in the abbey square. Even this lovely place, though, provided a grim reminder of the abbey’s difficult past: In 1914, German forces massacred 43 men here, all Leffe citizens.

I was thinking about Abbot DeMoulin’s hospitality on the way out of town today. Even in a place as poorly treated by man and nature as Leffe Abbey has been through the ages, this Norbertine virtue shines through. While I’ve been impressed with the sights we’ve seen in our first week, this fact impresses me even more.

After a long bus ride marked by a few wrong turns, we arrived at Laon, France, late today. Tomorrow’s highlight will be a tour of Prémontré Abbey … the site where St. Norbert founded his order nearly 900 years ago.