La Trappe.—This celebrated abbey of the Order of Reformed Cistercians is built in a solitary valley, surrounded by forests and watered by numerous streams which form in the vicinity, a number of beautiful lakes. The location is eighty-four miles from Paris, and nine miles from the little town of Mortagne in the Department of Orne and the Diocese of Seez, within the ancient Province of Normandy. At its beginning it was only a small chapel, built in 1122 in pursuance of a vow made by Rotrou II, Count of Perche, who, a few years afterwards, constructed a monastery adjoining, to which he invited the religious of Breuil-Benoit, an abbey belonging to the Order of Savigny, then in great renown for fervor and holiness; and in 1140 the monastery of La Trappe was erected into an abbey. In 1147 Savigny, with all its affiliated monasteries, was united to the Order of Citeaux, and from this time forth La Trappe was a Cistercian abbey, immediately depending on the Abbot of Clairvaux. During several centuries La Trappe remained in obscurity and, as it were, lost in the vast multitude of monasteries that claimed Citeaux for their mother. But in the course of the fifteenth century La Trappe, on account of its geographical situation, became a prey to the English troops, during the wars between France and England, and in the sixteenth century, it, like all the other monasteries, had the misfortune to be given “in commendam”; after this the religious had nothing further to preserve than the mournful ruins of a glorious past.
However, the hour was soon to come when the monastery was to have a bright return to its primitive fervor. The author of this reform was de Rance, fourteenth commendatory Abbot of La Trappe, who, as regular abbot, employed all his zeal in this great enterprise, the noble traditions of the holy founders of Citeaux being again enforced. The good odor of sanctity of the inhabitants of La Trappe soon made the monastery celebrated amongst all Christian nations. On February 13, 1790, a decree of the Government was directed against the religious orders of France, and the Abbey of La Trappe was suppressed; but the religious, who had taken the road to exile under their abbot, Dom Augustin de Le-strange, were one day to see the doors reopen to them. In 1815, the abbey, which had been sold as national property, was repurchased by Dom Augustin, but on their return the Trappists found nothing besides ruin; they rebuilt their monastery on the foundations of the old one, and on August 30, 1832, the new church was solemnly consecrated by the Bishop of Seez. In 1880 the Trappists were again expelled; they, however, soon returned, to the great joy and satisfaction of the working classes and the poor. Under the able administration of the present abbot, Dom Etienne Salasc, the forty-fifth abbot since the foundation, and the fourteenth since the reform of de Rance, the monastery has been entirely rebuilt: the new church, which is greatly admired, was consecrated on August 30, 1895. The different congregations of Trappists are now united in a single order, the official name being the “Order of Reformed Cistercians”, but for a long time they will continue to be known by their popular name of “Trappists” (see Cistercians).
Bossuet was a frequent visitor at La Trappe, in order to spend a few days in retreat with his friend, the Abbot de Rance; James II of England, when a refugee in France, went there to look for consolation. Dom Mabillon, after his long quarrels with de Rance, visited him there to make peace with him. The Count of Artois, afterwards Charles X, spent several days at the abbey; and in 1847 Louis Philippe wished likewise to visit this celebrated monastery. Amongst those who have contributed to the glory of the abbey in modern times we will only mention Father Robert, known to the world as Dr. Debreyne, one of the most renowned physicians of France, and held in high repute for his numerous medico-theological works.
EDMOND M. OBRECHT