La Trappe Abbey
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (July 2008)|
La Trappe Abbey or La Grande Trappe is a monastery in Soligny-la-Trappe, Orne, France, and the house of origin of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.: Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae), Reformed Cistercians or Trappists, to whom it gave its name.
The site of the famous La Trappe Abbey was for centuries isolated in a valley surrounded by forests, streams and lakes, 9 miles from Mortagne and 84 miles from Paris, in the Diocese of Séez and the former province of Normandy.
It began as a small oratory chapel to the Virgin Mary, built in 1122 by Rotrou III, Count of Perche, as a memorial to his wife Matilda. (An illegitimate daughter of Henry I, she drowned in the White Ship disaster of 1120.) A few years later Rotrou built a monastery adjoining, which he offered to the monks of Le Breuil-Benoît Abbey near Dreux, a house of the Order of Savigny. The order was highly respected at that time for its fervour and holiness.
In 1140 the monastery of La Trappe was raised to the status of abbey. In 1147 Savigny Abbey, with all its affiliated monasteries, was united to the Cistercian Order. From that time onwards, La Trappe was a Cistercian abbey, immediately subordinate to the abbot of Clairvaux.
After years of prosperity, La Trappe suffered during the Hundred Years' War. It was in the path of both the English and French armies. The monks were forced to abandon the monastery, which was burnt and pillaged in 1376 and again in 1465. In the 16th century, after the reconstruction, the abbey, in common with many other monasteries, was given to a series of absentee abbots in commendam. The lack of leadership depressed its fortunes.
The 14th commendatory abbot, installed in 1662, Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, godson of Cardinal Richelieu, proved to be La Trappe's greatest leader. De Rancé experienced a religious conversion which led him to take his responsibilities seriously. He became abbot in fact as well as in name. From 1664 La Trappe was the centre of a thorough reform of the Cistercian Order, led by de Rancé. The reform movement took the name of the abbey and became renowned as an order.
Bossuet, a friend of de Rancé, was a frequent visitor at La Trappe. James II of England came here while a refugee in France. The distinguished Benedictine scholar, Dom Jean Mabillon, after his long quarrels with de Rancé, visited him here to make peace.
The abbey did not escape the general fate of religious houses under the French Revolution. Pursuant to the decree of 13 February 1790 against the religious orders of France, the abbey was suppressed. Some of the monks were martyred. Others, under the then-abbot, Dom Augustin de Lestrange, went into exile, initially at La Valsainte Charterhouse in Switzerland.
The French government sold the abbey as national property. Dom Augustin purchased the property in 1815. When the community returned, the brothers found the premises in a ruinous state. They had to rebuild the monastery in its entirety. The new church was consecrated on 30 August 1832.
In 1880 the Trappists were expelled under French laws against religious institutions, but after a couple of years, they were able to return. The monastery was entirely rebuilt under the 45th abbot, Dom Etienne Salasc; the new church was consecrated on 30 August 1895.
These are the buildings, in Neo-Gothic style, which are still to be seen, and are still occupied by the Trappist community, under the leadership of abbot Dom Guerric Reitz-Séjotte, appointed in 2004. La Trappe Abbey directly supervises four other Trappist houses, at Bellefontaine in Anjou, Timadeuc in Brittany, Échourgnac in Dordogne, and Tre Fontane in Italy.
- One explanation of the name La Trappe - French: trapdoor - is that it was so called because the site was difficult to get to, there being no path to it when the monastery was founded: The Popular Encyclopedia; or, Conversations Lexicon (London: Blackie & Son, 1884), p. 211.
- De Rancé had criticised Mabillon for putting his energies into scholarship rather than the manual labour prescribed by the Rule
- at Bégrolles-en-Mauges (Maine-et-Loire)
- "La Trappe". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- La Trappe Abbey website