We arrived at Averbode Abbey in Belgium this morning. We attended Mass in their church this morning. When the priests processed out, they just kept coming and coming and coming. Averbode has just fewer than 80 priests who belong to the Order; approximately 40 are living at the abbey. I would guess that 20 priests processed out at the beginning of Mass. Some of our Norbertines put on vestments and joined. It was really a nice surprise to see such numbers.
The Mass was very nice. There were children from a Gregorian choir who had traveled a couple of hours to participate in the liturgy this morning. They were quite impressive! I was also struck by how often during Mass they used incense. They were already burning the incense when we entered and they used it throughout Mass. Tim and Sue Reilly got booted out of the first pew they sat down in. I didnâ€™t see it but I was not surprised when they pointed out the older couple. Squatterâ€™s rights I guess.
Following Mass we were led through the â€œforbiddenâ€ doors to an outside courtyard where we had champagne and Pringles. Thatâ€™s right, Pringles. They were served on a silver platter too. It was so sweet the way they had it all set up immediately following Mass. Later we found out that the celebration was in part because we were visiting and in part because it is the end of the work term in Belgium. People of this country will take July and August holidays.
After the reception we had lunch with the community. Even more Norbertines turned out there. There had to be at least 30 Norbertines who joined us. This dining area was huge. The announcements were made via a microphone so we could all hear. This is a huge change from the smaller settings weâ€™ve dined in thus far. The spread they had was incredible; kabobs, salads, pasta salads, potato salads, vegetables, tongue, shrimp, salmon, bread, wine and more. Imagine the best buffet youâ€™ve ever been to and multiply it by two. To top it off they had dessert for us and after that cookies and chocolate. Oddly enough, they also passed out cigars after dinner. Just now Iâ€™m thinking I should have snagged one as a gift for my Papa.
Fr. Stephen took us on a tour following dinner. We began in the tour in the church where we had mass. The church is a synthesis between the gothic and early Baroque styles and itâ€™s filled with white. There was much vegetation and other creation carved into the ornamentation.
In one area of the chapel there exists an altar shrine to Our Lady. This shrine has received many pilgrims throughout the years and at one point in time the abbey saw a need to print informational pamphlets to distribute. From this small scale printing project, the Abbey grew into one of the most important publishing houses in Belgium. The Abbey does not print any longer but they are still operating as a publishing house, the only educational publishing house in Belgian hands. The abbey employs 104 lay people, 2 confrÃ¨res and publishes mainly books for children and youth. Averbode also publishes books to train professionals who work with children whoâ€™ve experienced the loss of someone through suicide and theyâ€™ve published a book of accounts of sexual violence and incest. Fr. Steve said these are topics that do not make publishers any money so if they donâ€™t publish them, nobody will.
Averbode has a foundation in Brazil and another in the mainly Protestant country of Denmark.
Another interesting fact, during World War II, the abbey kept Jewish refugees in the crypt beneath their building and consequently, these Jews survived the war.
Before we left Averbode, they had coffee waiting for us in a meeting room. Imagine that!
We arrived in â€˜s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands this afternoon. This city is filled with bicycles. Theyâ€™re pretty skilled riders. Some have passengers on the backs of their bikes and others smoke or talk on their cell phones as they cruise around.
Artist Hieronymus Bosch is the townâ€™s claim to fame. He was born in the town and there is a monument dedicated to him in one of the squares.
I am glad that we will be here for two nights because many of the churches, museums and shops were closed today.
It ended up being beautiful out tonight and I hope the weather repeats tomorrow. In the morning we are going to Oosterhout Priory, a community of cloistered nuns that was established from PrÃ©montrÃ© in 1271. It will be our first visit to a religious community of women.