Perched on a wooded hilltop with only the lofty twin spires of the Cathedral to announce its discovery, Abbey de Maredsous reigns proud over the Monlignee Valley in southern Belgium. Founded November 15, 1872 by Hildebrand de Hemptinne, the Benedictine abbey is renown for it’s own production of beer, bread, cheese, and ceramics. However the classic neo-gothic beauty of the towering Cathedral and Cloister can at moments overshadow these accomplishments.
After a leisurely tour of St. Joseph Visitor Center and spacious grounds, we returned to admire the mammoth structure, Benedictine Abbaye Maredsous. From the car park left the sober gray walls of the cloister lead to the twin grand towers guarding the entrance. High above the double wooden doors a row of saints and angels stood vigil. Inside, we could not help but feel the presence of the Almighty in such grandeur. I felt small, dwarfed by the height and sobriety. Austerity overwhelmed us. Huge arches and columns held up somber gray and white stone, while above the altar columns of stain glass sparkled. In 1955-58 all neo-gothic ornamentation was removed except the stain glass and this only brought more emphasis to the stark expansive sanctuary. I only wished I had a chance to see the unaltered Cathedral. Small chapels opened on each side of the long nave and the right lead to the enclosed cloister. Peace reigned here and I felt I needed to know who inhabited this wondrous place.
Who are these people who pray and live here? "A community of Benedictine Monks brought together around the gospel, The Rule of St. Benedict and the people who want to make this place live to make it attractive for everybody: hosts, pilgrims, pupils, passersby and surfers", says Father Benard Lorent, Abbot of Maredsous on the Abbey’s website. St Benedict offered a program of life, including prayer, work and community for anyone searching for God.
Surrounding the Abbey and Cloister are a College specializing in languages and a Guesthouse. Not a hotel, but a guesthouse for groups or individuals that are looking for a retreat. Accommodations are basic, with facilities on each floor and forget the TV, telephone, and room service. Scattered about the hills are cabins and chalets, available for youth groups, church retreats, or reflective guests. Guests can also take their meals with the monks in silence, except for the reading of the day. Talking meals are available in the giant cafeteria in the Visitor Center.
Need time for reflection? A restful garden with fountain inhabits the enclosed cloister and nature walks meander through out the lush grounds. Monks even offer guided walks. All are welcome to join the Monks for daily prayers beginning in the early morning, through out the day and the end of the day. All guests are welcome as Christ. All this and they make beer too, as well as bread, cheese, and ceramics. Maredsous Cheese, semi-hard, mellow and slightly fruity has 7 styles including double cream and Light. Nothing is better with Maredsous Cheese than fresh baked bread and they make it every day, behind the Abbey next to the dairy.
Cathedral Maredsous is open every day and late on Sunday. March-October 9-6, Nov.-Feb.10-6, Sunday 9-7. Access is free and as is the parking. Brochures, and pamphlets in French and Dutch, are available in the foyer of the Cathedral alongside an impressive display of photos of the construction and later the removal of the ornamentation. English information will be furnished on request. website www.maredsous.com