Monasteries | Westvleteren (B)
B-8640 Westvleteren - BELGIUM
The appearance of the Saint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren (Belgium) is nothing if not modest. What strikes visitors and walkers is the simplicity and tranquillity exuded by the austere buildings.
No Dutch gold or tourist eyecatcher here… just a feeling of timeless harmony between the abbey and the extensive open countryside of the Westhoek region. The story of the abbey begins with Johannes Baptist Victoor who lived here as a hermit. In 1831, he welcomed here three monks from Mont-des-Cats, a foundation of Notre-Dame du Gard. One of them, Dom Franciscus-Maria, founded the monastery here in 1831.
Saint Sixtus became an abbey exactly forty years later. So began the story of the abbey, in a remote and desolate region where silence was the only witness to a life of prayer and work. The buildings constructed over time represent the growth of the abbey. A new monastery, a small church, a gate for more seclusion but also a farm, a brewery, a forge, a mill and a carpenter's shop appear in the records. "Ora et Labora" (Prayer and work). The walls tell the story of Trappist life.
The brewery appears for the first time in the cash register on 15 June 1838: 919 francs were spent "on an old brewery". It is assumed the purchase was also influenced by Westmalle, with which Westvleteren formed a separate Belgian congregation from 1836.
Saint Sixtus received a brewer's licence in 1839. The cashbook mentions that an amount of 25 francs 45 was spent "on the rights to two brews of beer". This referred to the first brew. The brewery was renovated five times over the years. The most recent installation was only put in as late as 1990. The brewery represents a successful combination of tradition and modern technology: the perfect guarantee of a good end product.
Trappists belong to the Cistercian Order. Their lifestyle consists of complete devotion to God. This is clear, among other things, from the brotherly unity, solitude, tranquillity, prayer and … work!
Manual labour is held in special esteem within this tradition: the income from this is used for their sustenance and for helping others. It is also a symbol of solidarity with all those who work for a living. They therefore brew to live and not live to brew. This is why the Trappist Westvleteren beer is only produced in limited quantities.
The abbey and the brewery are not open to the public. Anyone who is interested can however visit the "Claustrum", the information area in the "In de Vrede" meeting centre opposite the abbey. There, you can gain a closer acquaintance with the abbey community. You will also be given an introduction to the history of the brewery and the details of the brewing process. You can get to know our Trappist beer in the café in our meeting centre.