New Norcia, Western Australia

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New Norcia
Western Australia
New Norcia Benedictine Monastery.jpg
New Norcia Benedictine Monastery
New Norcia is located in Western Australia
New Norcia
New Norcia
Coordinates 30°57′11″S 116°11′28″E / 30.953°S 116.191°E / -30.953; 116.191Coordinates: 30°57′11″S 116°11′28″E / 30.953°S 116.191°E / -30.953; 116.191
Established 1847
Postcode(s) 6509
  • 132 km (82 mi) N of Perth
  • 56 km (35 mi) SE of Moora
LGA(s) Shire of Victoria Plains
State electorate(s) Moore
Federal Division(s) Durack

New Norcia /ˌnj ˈnɔrsiə/ is a town in Western Australia, 132 km (82 mi) north of Perth, along the Great Northern Highway. It is situated next to the banks of the Moore River, in the Shire of Victoria Plains.

New Norcia is the only monastic town in Australia. A ground station for the European Space Agency is located 8 km south of the town.[1]


On 1 March 1846, a Benedictine mission to the local aborigines was started about 8 km to the north, led by the two Spanish Benedictines, Rosendo Salvado and Joseph Serra. Within a year the mission was moved to where the town is today, and on 1 March 1847 the foundation stone of the monastery was laid. The place was named New Norcia, after Norcia in Italy, the birthplace of St Benedict. Unlike the Italian Norcia, which is pronounced "nor-chee-a", New Norcia is pronounced "new nor-sia".


New Norcia Hotel

The town of New Norcia has buildings in a Spanish style of architecture, along with some other historical sites. Among these are the two old boarding schools, St Ildephonsus' and St Gertrude's (both now used for accommodation and various social functions), the Abbey Church (containing the tomb of Rosendo Salvado), an old mill, a wine press, a hotel, and the monastery itself.

The town has attracted interest and tourist visits for most of its existence, and as a consequence a number of guide books and histories have been produced[2][3]

Tours of the town are operated daily by the Friends of New Norcia, who also organise the accommodation in the various buildings including the monastery retreat.[4] The Benedictine monks continue to occupy the monastery and are involved with most of the enterprises in the town.

The last Spanish Benedictine monk of New Norcia died on 18 January 2010, aged 99. He continued to prepare the bread for the monks and olive oil almost upon his death.[citation needed].

Today New Norcia is increasingly well respected in Australian culinary circles for its quality bakery (built in 1886) offering breads, nutcake and biscotti.[5] Also maintaining olive oil production and locally made wines, port and ale can be purchased at the community or from special outlets.[6]

New Norcia Hotel[edit]

Originally known as the New Norcia Hostel,[7] the New Norcia Hotel is an operating business in the community.[8][9]


The Benedictine abbey was founded on 1 March, 1846, by a Spanish Benedictine, Rudesindus Salvado, for the christianizing of the Australian aborigines. It is situated eighty-two miles from Perth, the state capital; its territory is bounded on the south and east by the Diocese of Perth, and on the north by the Diocese of Geraldton. This mission at first had no territory. Its saintly founder, like the Baptist of old, lived in the wilderness, leading the same nomadic life as the savages whom he had come to lead out of darkness. His food was of the most variable character, consisting of wild roots dug out of the earth by the spears of his swarthy neophytes, with lizards, iguanas, even worms in times of distress, or, when fortunate in the chase, with the native kangaroo. After three years of unparalleled hardships amongst this cannibal race, Salvado came to the conclusion that they were capable of Christianity. Assisted by some friends, he started for Rome in 1849 to procure auxiliaries and money to assist him in prosecuting his work of civilization. While in Rome he was appointed Bishop of Port Victoria in Northern Australia, being consecrated on 15 August, 1849. Before he left Rome, all his people of Port Victoria had abandoned the diocese for the goldfields. Bishop Salvado thereupon implored the pope to permit him to return to his beloved Australian blacks. He set out for Spain, and obtained there monetary assistance and over forty young volunteers. All these afterwards became Benedictines. They landed in Australia in charge of their bishop on 15 August, 1852.

Bishop Salvado, with his band of willing workers, commenced operations forthwith. They cleared land for the plough, and introduced the natives to habits of industry. They built a large monastery, schools and orphanages for the young, cottages for the married, flour-mills to grind their wheat, etc. An important village soon sprang up, in which many natives were fed, clothed, and made good Christians.

On 12 March, 1867, Pius IX made New Norcia an abbey nullius and a prefecture Apostolic with jurisdiction over a territory of 16 square miles, the extent of Bishop Salvado's jurisdiction until his death in Rome on 29 December, 1900, in the eighty-seventh year of his age and the fifty-first of his episcopate.

Father Fulgentius Torres, O.S.B., was elected Abbot of New Norcia in succession to Bishop Salvado on 2 October, 1902. The new abbot found it necessary to frame a new policy for his mission. Rapid changes were setting in; agricultural settlers were taking up the land, driving out the sheep and cattle lords, and absorbing the labour of the civilized natives. The mission had now to provide for the spiritual wants of the white population, and Abbot Torres boldly faced the situation by entering upon a large scheme of improvements in and around the monastery. With the approbation of the Holy See, he had the boundaries of the abbey extended to embrace the country between 30º and 31º 20' S. latitude, and between the sea and 120º E. longitude -- a territory of over 30,000 sq. miles (nearly as large as Ireland or the State of Maine). Abbot Torres brought out many priests and young ecclesiastics for the monastery and parochial work, and built churches in the more settled districts of his new territory. Since Abbot Torres became superior in 1901, the number of churches has increased from one to ten. To foster higher education, Abbot Torres has erected a magnificent convent and ladies' college, and has in hand a similar institution for boys. He has already completed a large and commodious girls' orphanage. All these works have been accomplished at the expense of the Benedictine community. Abbot Torres has not confined his energies solely to New Norcia. He founded the "Drysdale River Aborigines Mission", 2000 miles away, in the extreme north-west of Australia, an unexplored land inhabited only by the most treacherous savages. This mission was opened on 12 July, 1908, with a party of fifteen in charge of two priests.

Abbot Torres was consecrated Bishop in Rome on 22 May, 1910. On the fourth of the same month, by a Decree of the Propaganda, he was appointed administrator Apostolic of Kimberley, and had the "Drysdale Mission" erected into an abbey nullius. He has now under his jurisdiction a territory of 174,000 square miles -- an area nearly as large as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Maine. The position in 1910 of the mission was: churches, 10; priests, 17 (secular, 7); monastic students, 9; other religious, 33; nuns, 18; high school, 1; primary schools, 4; charitable institutions, 2; children attending Catholic schools, 350; Catholic population, 3000.

There are 11 monks living in the monastery, ranging in age from 40 to 95. They pray together seven times a day.



  • Rosendo Salvado, 12 March 1867 - 29 December 1900, died as abbot, aged 86 years
  • Fulgentius Torres, 1902 - 6 October 1914, died as abbot, aged 53 years[11]
  • Anselm Catalan, 1915 - 1951 (resigned),[12] died 29 July 1959, aged 80 years
  • Gregory Gomez,[13] 1951 - 1971 (resigned), died 31 May 1995, aged 91 years
  • Bernard Rooney, 31 March 1974 - 15 June 1980 (resigned)
  • Placid Spearritt, 29 January 1997 - 4 October 2008, died as abbot, aged 75 years[14]
  • John Herbert, 23 January 2009 to present

From 1983 until 1997, the Territorial Abbey had been suppressed into the Archdiocese of Perth and Spearritt worked as an administrator.

Monastery buildings and Pipe organs[edit]

The Monastery buildings are on the eastern side of the current highway alignment through the town.

There are two pipe organs located within the monastery buildings. In the Abbey Church of the Holy Trinity is a large 35 rank German organ, built in 1922 by Albert Moser of Munich. The organ was designed in consultation with the abbey organist, Dom Moreno.[15]

The second pipe organ, of 13 ranks and much more modern in style, is located in the Oratory Chapel. This organ was built in 1983 by Belsham Pipe Organs.[16]


St Ildephonsus' Boys' School

There have been a range of colleges situated in the town, associated with the Monastery, they are situated on the west side of the current main road alignment which passes through the town.[17]

St Gertrude's[edit]

St Gertrude's was completed in 1908.[18]

St Ildephonsus[edit]

St Ildephonsus' was opened in 1913. It operated until 1964, St Ildephonsus' under the Marist Brothers order.[19][20]

From 1965 onwards, it was run by the Benedictines as St Benedict's College. In 1972, St Benedict's and St Gertrude's became co-educational, with the boys and girls sharing most of their lessons.

Salvado College - New Norcia Catholic College[edit]

In 1974, the two colleges became known jointly as Salvado College, but were still referred to individually as St Benedict's and St Gertrude's. In 1986, Salvado College became New Norcia Catholic College, which closed at the end of 1991.


There were also two aboriginal orphanages ; St Mary's (for boys)[21] and St Joseph's (for girls), which closed in the early 1970s. The two buildings still exist. St Mary's is next to St Ildephonsus', and St Joseph's is next to St Gertrude's.

Current usage[edit]

St Joseph's now houses the Museum and Art Gallery, which contains works by Australian and overseas artists, and displays describing the history of the area. In 1986, twenty six paintings were stolen by two robbers. Several weeks later, all but one of the stolen paintings were returned. They were badly damaged, but were eventually repaired.

Grounds and heritage trail[edit]

With decreasing numbers of active colleges, and changes in the organisation of the town, some buildings and sites have been retored and incorporated into a heritage trail within the town. The following buildings are among the heritage buildings situated on the site of the Monastery, which is registered on the Register of the National Estate and classified by the National Trust of Australia WA:[22][23][24]

See also[edit]

European Space Agency - New Norcia Station

Books about New Norcia[edit]


  1. ^ *ABC Dimensions - New Norcia and the European Space Agency
  2. ^ Smith, John H; Benedictine Abbey of New Norcia, Western Australia (2008), The story of New Norcia : the Western Australian Benedictine mission (8th ed.), Benedictine Community of New Norcia, ISBN 978-0-646-49721-1 
  3. ^ Monachus; Benedictine Abbey of New Norcia, Western Australia (1946), New Norcia : historical guide to all its institutions, Benedictine Abbey, retrieved 6 June 2012 
  4. ^ Friends of New Norcia
  5. ^ New Norcia bakery
  6. ^ New Norcie products
  7. ^ "NEW NORCIA.". Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 - 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 20 November 1927. p. 20. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Strano, Angelo; Coleman, Kim (1969), The New Norcia Hotel, s.n, retrieved 27 November 2014 
  9. ^ Randall, Warwick (1987), "Great pubs. -The hotel at New Norcia, Western Australia, and the township-", This Australia 6 (4): 40, retrieved 27 November 2014 
  10. ^ New Norcia Cemetery
  11. ^ "OBITUARY.". Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 - 1950) (WA: National Library of Australia). 6 October 1914. p. 6. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  12. ^ "LORD ABBOT OF NEW NORCIA TO RETIRE.". Catholic Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1942 - 1954) (Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia). 28 June 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  13. ^ "NEW LORD ABBOT ELECTED.". Catholic Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1942 - 1954) (Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia). 9 August 1951. p. 5. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  14. ^ Obituary of Abbot Placid Spearritt
  15. ^ The Organ Society of Western Australia
  16. ^ The Organ Society of Western Australia
  17. ^ In sources and descriptions of the 1950s the colleges are referred to as 'mission colleges and orphanages'
  18. ^ Byrne, Francis, 1949-; New Norcia Catholic College (1988), 80th anniversary, St. Gertrude's College, New Norcia, 1908-1988, New Norcia Catholic College, retrieved 27 November 2014 
  19. ^ St. Ildephonsus' College (1960), St. Ildephonsus' College, New Norcia, Western Australia : prospectus, St. Ildephonsus' College, retrieved 27 November 2014 
  20. ^ Braniff, Valerian (2009), St. Ildephonsus' College, New Norcia 1913-1964 : an educational, religious and social history ([Rev. ed.] ed.), Schools of Education and Social Enquiry, Murdoch University, retrieved 27 November 2014 
  21. ^ "Native Orphanage for boys.". The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 22 July 1924. p. 6. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  22. ^ Livings, Simon (1987), "The New Norcia Heritage Trail. -in Western Australia-", Heritage (Australian Heritage Society) 6 (1): 20–21, ISSN 0155-2716 
  23. ^ Western Australia. Heritage Trails Secretariat (1986), New Norcia Heritage Trail : the development of the Benedictine settlement at New Norcia, Western Australia, Heritage Trails Secretariat, Western Australian Heritage Committee, retrieved 27 November 2014 
  24. ^ Heritage Trails Network (W.A.); Heritage Council of Western Australia (1999), Heritage Trail, New Norcia : the development of the Benedictine settlement at New Norcia, Western Australia, Heritage Council of Western Australia, retrieved 27 November 2014 

Sources and External links[edit]