Sint Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren

In winter of 1814 Jan-Baptist Victoor (married to the widow of JF Lebbe) left Poperinge to settle in the forests of Saint Sixtus and to spend the rest of his life as a hermit. In this way he continued the monastic tradition, which had been  interupted thirty years before by Emperor Jozef II. When in the summer of 1831, the prior of the newly founded monastery of Catsberg together with some of his monks settled with the hermit, a new Cistercian monastery was born. The early years (1831-1836) were difficult. Yet there was a steady growth of the community. There were 23 members in 1835 and 52 in 1875. Twice the community ceded monks: in 1850 16 priests and brothers left to Scourmont for the foundation of a daughter house, and twenty brothers were sent to Canada in the years 1858 – 1860 to give new life  to Tracadie ( Today Spencer in the U.S.)  Other important events in the first period are the construction of the “old church” in 1840, the establishment of the primary school around 1840, the commissioning of the first brewery in 1839, the donation of the monastery properties by the family Lebbe in 1860, the up-grade of the priory to abbey in 1871 and the development of the farm to business model for the region in the years 1875-1878.

During World War I hundreds of refugees and nearly 400,000 Allied soldiers remained in and around the Westvleteren abbey. The Second World War seemed for the abbey, both economically and, politically a precarious time. Out of human point of vieuw there has been a lot of suffering and we think it is still too early to judge all of this in an objective way and to estimate its true value.
The period after World War II has been very decisive for our community. Very important options were then taken which for us up till today are still very determined.
The then abbot Dom Gerardus Deleye (abbey from 1941 till 1968) took the decision in 1945 to reduce the still growing brewery.
With its current annual production of about 4800 hectoliters our brewery is still a small company run by the monks themselves.
The construction of the guest house in 1964. Fore that time, and certainly for the then community to be considered. ‘Spacious’ It illustrates the importance the community gives to hospitality: the openness to the outside world is an essential element for us monks
The other substantial pole of our lives: the pole of ‘seclusion’, got shape in 1968 by the construction of the present abbey. A timeless, modern church that the sober Cistercianarchitecture – a tradition of centuries – perfectly honours.
This church promotes the isolation of our monks, for it is only accessible for guests and for the people who ring the bell at the gate of the monastery.
The former outside church was completely ceded to the parish and its pilgrims. She was operated until 2000 by the pastor of Vleteren.
In recent years, this former abbey church got re-assigned as refectory and library in the renovated monastery.
The current community counts 21 brothers.
It is remarkable that our community since the end of the 19th century always remained  around the number of about 35 members. We regularly get the question:
“How many of you still are there?” It seems that we are considered. by many as the last of the Mohicans, like a  sort of dying breed. Monasteries and abbeys know as well the sociological regularity of expansion and contraction.So many factors can influence this process. Ofcourse the general social secularization is not without consequences for our abbey. There are less new members than 10 years ago. And the age of the candidates has grown older than before.
However, we believe that it is God himself leading time and people.
We dare to give him full confidence, in his providential care. We are in God’s hands.
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