History of Our Lady
The abbey of Maria Toevlucht was founded in 1990 – originally it was meant as a refuge for French monks who fled for the secularisation laws after the French revolution. Hence the name Maria Toevlucht (Our Lady of Refuge) and the location near the border.
Our abbey through the years
The trappists arrive in the netherlands
During the period of the French Revolution, the new policy was unfavourable to abbey life, and this to such an extent that the survival of many monasteries was under siege. At the end of the 19th century it appeared as though this would become a reality for the Northern French Trappist Monastery of Mont Des Cats (Katsberg). It was for this reason that the abbot dispatched one of his monks to seek a place of refuge abroad. They found it in Tilburg, where the Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven was founded in 1881. The abbey soon flourished and it was not long before the idea emerged to found more abbeys in the Netherlands that could serve as places of refuge for monks threatened with expulsion.
The foundation of the abbey of our lady of refuge
An opportunity to found a new monastery arose in 1897, when Miss Anna Catharina van Dongen from Zundert gifted a piece of land to the Abbot of the Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven. The Abbot at the time, Dom Willibrord Verbruggen, decided to build an abbey on that land. Since it was intended to be a place of refuge for French monks, the new project was called ‘Our Lady of Refuge’.
In the autumn of 1899, two monks set out for Zundert from Tilburg – Father Nivardus Muis and Brother Dorotheüs de Vries. The tenant farmer of the small farm ‘de Kievit’, Bart Nouws, provided them with temporary accommodation. They were followed by more brothers from Koningshoeven.
Building for the first monastery began on the site where the present guest house stands today. The Abbot of Tilburg inaugurated the chapel on 24 May 1900, Ascension Day. And it was with twelve monks, shepherded by Father Nivardus Muis, that Our Lady of Refuge officially started to function as a monastery.
Tijdelijk onderdak in de Abdij van Westmalle
Op 22 juni 1909 kregen de broeders bericht dat ze hun klooster onmiddellijk moesten verlaten. De abt van Tilburg was in zo’n financiële problemen terecht gekomen, dat ernstig gedacht werd aan de verkoop van alle goederen, inclusief die van Zundert, om een hypotheekschuld af te lossen. De broeders van Maria Toevlucht vertrokken met paard en kar naar de Trappistenabdij van Westmalle, waar zij door abt Ferdinand en zijn communiteit hartelijk opgenomen werden.
Intussen zochten de hogere oversten van de orde naar een oplossing. Ze werden daarbij aangemoedigd door mevrouw Maria Ullens de Schooten. Want als het klooster bleef bestaan, dan zou zij een grote som geld schenken om in Maria Toevlucht een kerk te bouwen. Tenslotte kwam er een regeling: dom Willibrord van Koningshoeven trad af en werd opgevolgd door dom Simon Dubuisson. De broeders van Zundert konden terug naar hun klooster en zo bleef hun stichting behouden.
Expansion of the monastery
Upon their return the brothers got started with construction. Because of Mrs Ullens de Schooten’s generous donation, they were able to first start with the church’s construction. Initially they limited their efforts to the church nave. Shortly thereafter, the money they saved with this approach was used to build workplaces behind the monastery: a bakery, laundry and a forge. A large storage shed was built opposite the workplaces. The final piece to be completed was the construction of the monastery’s chapter wing, creating expanded space for housing. An additional donation by Mrs Ullens de Schooten made it possible for them to complete the church, adding the altar space and the chapels arounds it.
The priory becomes an abbey
On 14 September 1938, the priory of Zundert was elevated to the status of an abbey. And on 19 October the very same year, Father Nivardus Muis was chosen by the brothers to be the first Abbot of Our Lady of Refuge. Dom Nivardus passed away in 1942 at the age of 67.
In 1943, Brother Alphonsus van Kalken was chosen to be the abbot. Under his leadership, the abbey’s 50th anniversary was celebrated in style. An organ was built in the church for the occasion. In 1950, the abbey’s community also reached its greatest numbers: it was home to 80 monks for a short period of time. Dom Alphonsus stepped down in 1958 at the age of 76.
Modernisation of monastic life
In 1958, Brother Emmanuel Schuurmans was selected to be the third abbot of Zundert. The new abbot had a great many ideas concerning modernisation. The church’s interior was fully renovated, but the rest of the monastery was also decorated in grey stucco. Another significant innovation was that the lay brothers, who mainly worked the land, were increasingly considered equal to the choir monks, who devoted themselves to study and choral prayer.
During the 1960s, the liturgy was also revised and gradually switched from Latin to Dutch. The activities of the Inter-monasterial Working Group For Liturgy (IWVL) provided serious incentive in this respect.
During the same period, Ida Gerhardt and Marie van der Zeyde had begun their work translating the Psalms. The translations were set to music and entered into use in 1975.
The introduction of zen meditation
The first Zen meditation sessions were held in the abbey during the 1970s. This form of meditation was introduced to the abbey by Dom Jeroen Witkam, who had become the fourth abbot. He had become interested in meditation, largely because he ad also become acquainted with yoga during his studies in Rome. Zen meditation became part of abbey life for a number of brothers and also for many guests over the years.
In the mid-1970s, completely new quarters were built at the site of the old monastery. Each brother was allocated his own room, to observe the necessary silence and solitude.
New vocations and new activity
The Eighties were a fairly quiet period. There were some entries, but the majority of young monks left the abbey. For a brief time it appeared as if the community of Our Lady of Refuge was without future; however, the tide turned in the Nineties. Sixteen young men have entered since them, several of whom have remained. In 1998, the brothers decided to stop intensive dairy farming and switched to ecological cattle farming.
A year before Dom Wiro Fagel was chosen to be the fifth abbot in 2001, the community made plans to completely renew the guest house and the gatehouse and fully renovate the existing buildings. Work started in 2002. A brand new guest house and gatehouse were erected. All the other residential buildings and the church were given an overhaul. Renovation work was completed in 2005. A period of major building work had come to an end and peace and silence were restored.
A brewery replaces the cattle farm
In 2007, Dom Daniël Hombergen was selected to be the sixth abbot, and the cattle farm came to an end. Eventually, at the end of 2011, long-term care of the land was entrusted to Natuurmonumenten (Society for preservation of nature monuments in the Netherlands). This event led to the restoration of the land’s historic name ‘Kievitsmoeren’.
At the same time it was decided that the monks would start a home brewery: Trappist Brewery De Kievit. Following extensive preparations, the plans were implemented between October 2012 and October 2013. The brewery was built within the existing contours of the former farm buildings. These buildings also house the workplaces. ‘Zundert Trappist’ beer was introduced on the market in December 2013. Five years later the ‘Zundert Trappist’, which from now on is called ‘Zundert 8’, got a little brother, the dark en strong ‘Zundert 10’ which at once won the golden medal at the Dutch Beer Challenge 2019.
As many other communities also Maria Toevlucht becomes smaller. That requires much creativity concerning renovation en accommodation, but is even a source of new energy and dynamic. In 2017 Guido Van Belle is nominated as superior en in 2020 elected by the community te be the seventh abbot of Maria Toevlucht. This as a encouraging sign of the community to be approaching the future with spirit en confidence.
How good and pleasant it is, when brothers live in unity.
4882 KC Klein Zundert
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0031 (0)76 597 42 51
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