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During his travels, St. Norbert himself would oftentimes stop at Floreffe, Namur, Belgium, where he was encouraged by the Count Godefroid and his spouse to establish a religious community there. Religious foundations grew quickly in numbers since Floreffe abbey (the "mother abbey" to Leffe) was founded in 1121. These foundations spread not only in Belgium, but also in neighboring countries and holy ground, largely due to the zeal from the religious crusades.
In 1140, Henri, Count of Luxembourg and Namur, received the territory of Leffe from Frederich Barbarossa, king of the Romans. The count held in high esteem the religious order of the Prémontrés. He wanted to see the same happen to Leffe as happened to Floreffe. Henri promised the Canons that they could have a more spiritual life in Leffe. He proved to be a man of his word - he gave the St. Marie de Leffe church and Floreffe Abbey to Leffe, under the direction of a prior and the condition that he would establish the religious order there. In the 13th century, the abbey increased in revenue and gifts.
As with many abbeys in the beginning, Leffe had a rocky start, with many priests who came and went. The abbey saw the likes of an epic plague, a flood, and a fire that only left four standing walls and, naturally, an abandoned abbey, all in the 15th century. The duke of Burgundy borrowed money for the reparations. To quench the growing thirst of corrupt, political power, the Ancien Regime during the French Revolution forbade all religious associations from functioning, thus the abbey was evacuated. Father Gérard of the abbey was punished for continuing to practice his religion in the abbey!
The abbey was supported, impressively, by a woman of political power to some degree: Madame de Maintenon, the woman whom Louis XIV married in secrecy. She wrote to the Colombes, begging them to restore religious life to the abbeys, specifically gushing over the beauty and serenity she found at Leffe Abbey, which was suppressed during the French Revolution. In the beginning of the 19th century, the abbey was re-bought and religious life was restored, Father Gérard undoubtedly being behind much of the collaborative efforts.
Sadly, the abbey could only enjoy their return to religion for only a short period of time. During the Industrial Revolution, the abbey was turned into a paper mill and a wool factory. The last of the original Leffe monks passed away in 1844. Henri Collard took up the daunting task of renovating the abbey, but succeeded with much help. During World War I, as with virtually all abbeys in Europe, the abbey was once again evacuated, due to the German occupation. The Germans took 250 of the Leffe citizens and slaughtered them in the square (see the square in the picture above). The monks were able to happily return and bring back religious life in 1920, well after the war ended.
Today, the Norbertine way of life strives to include prayer, religious celebration, community life, apostolic life, and hospitality. Bells have a special place in religion, particularly in Leffe Abbey. Its rings remind the people of the Christian unity that has bound them together, through thick and thin. Of course, its rings can signify different events and reminders depending on when they are rung. In 2004, a bell was dedicated to the abbey in St. Augustine's name.
Leffe Abbey is known internationally for their wonderful Belgian ales. Although no longer made on abbey premises, these ales represent an important link to the illustrious brewing heritage of Leffe Abbey.
Compiled by Emily Sparapani using various sources from Leffe Abbey, Namur, Belgium.