intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
Are you attracted by an historic farm, abbey, castle or industrial heritage site? This illustrious Cistercian abbey has all these rolled into one . You will however be greeted by your hosts in the age-old farm of the Abbey of Moulins where you can expect a quality visitor experience. These places have many stories to tell and the local area is littered with little cultural and historic gems. Impossible not to fall under the spell of the valley of la Molignée or its more majestic counterpart, la Meuse !
The farm of the Abbey of Moulins: harmonious and majestic. © Abbey of Moulin
The Foundation of the Abbey of Moulins dates back to 1231, about a century after the creation of the Cistercian Order’s first houses for women. What an astonishing choice of location for those who seek solitude, you may think … as the Meuse valley was, and still is, an economic artery and important trading route. Very prosperous thanks to its metal processing, it therefore attracted a great many religious houses. And it was a politically-sensitive area too, given its close proximity to the flourishing town of Dinant, a bone of contention between the Count of Namur and the Principality of Liege.
The foundation of the first four abbeys, in miniature, commentary on the Apocalypse, Alexander of Bremen, University Library, Cambridge.
The answer to this question is just as astonishing. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the growth in towns and trade guilds went hand in hand with economic, cultural and religious revival where women briefly enjoyed a certain emancipation from the male ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Quite a few women, both single and widows, went on the crusades and returned keen to relive the experience of the earliest Christian communities. The foundation of the Abbey of Moulins provided a refuge to a group of these young women who wanted to live this renewed spirituality for themselves. The authorities only accepted this project on condition that the future congregation place itself under a recognised religious order, such as the Cistercians.
The Liturgy ruled the life of the Cistercian monks © François Wavre /Rezo
How very different was the account given by the Count of Namur, two centuries later, when he ordered the general chapter of the Order to inspect the nuns’ convents within his jurisdiction: a dilapidated infrastructure and relaxed monastic rules.
The abbots soon dismissed the nuns whom they were unable to integrate into other communities and created a new community of Cistercian monks at Moulins, under the direct authority of the abbot of Cîteaux.
History also tells of a salacious decree promulgated by the Count of Namur to his officers, who had asked for advice, security measures and assistance for the monks, to protect them from the torments, insults, irritations and problems caused by “these women who used to be nuns in this convent”.
Throughout the 350 years these sites were inhabited by communities of Cistercian monks, the Abbey of Moulins developed and played a crucial role – often forgotten – in the economic growth of the region: it set up agricultural and forestry operations; enhanced and taught skills; and contributed to the development of markets and improved mobility.
The vast 18th century barn testifies to the importance of the abbey’s activities © ferme de l’abbaye de Moulins
The monks of the Abbey of Moulins mainly owe the expansion of the domain to the numerous inheritances, alms, rents or allocations which they were given. Young monks joining the community brought a dowry. However, the lion’s share of the abbey’s wealth came from renting out its lands: woods, farm land and buildings with exploitation and production rights, exemptions and other advantages.
The farm is situated next to a water course, built as a diversion channel to cope with increased economic activity © intoHistory
In 1578, the monks built a flour mill and also dug a long deviation channel, a kilometre in length, which you will see as you go through the farm’s main entrance. The Abbey of Moulins’ farm buildings date from the beginning of the 17th century and the splendid barn dates from 1762. In reality, the farm became the abbey’s property back in 1520, together with about a hundred hectares of farm land. In 1626, the community decided to sell two hectares of the property to an ironmaster who built two blast furnaces, a three-hearth forge, a foundry and a marble sawmill. Then the monks decided, fifty years later , to build a paper mill, over a kilometre upstream. This workshop produced very high quality paper made from rags not wood pulp, as is nearly always the case today.
Print by Remacle Le Loup, 1740 published in “les délices du Païs de Liège”
We would not be surprised to learn that it was the wide range of activities which caused tensions within the heart of the monastic community, given the amount of noise that these created and the consequent disputes with local people. Maintaining sufficient water pressure for the various production units was a constant source of tension. Throughout the 18th century, the Abbey of Moulins tended to restrict its commitment to this type of activity and concentrate more on traditional farming and forestry activities.
Edict of Emperor Joseph II, State Archives in Namur, ecclesiastical archives
It was not Napoleon but Joseph II, the revolutionary Emperor, who suppressed the Cistercian abbey in 1783. Very soon after the 1798 revolution and French domination in the region, produce and raw materials started to travel south. The province of Namur was obliged to provide a military contribution of one million pounds, 25,000 pounds from the domain of the Abbey of Moulins, forcing it to sell off some of its heritage. From 1795, the nine new Belgian départements were attached to the Republic and the religious orders were suppressed. The abbey was converted into a military hospital. Then, in 1797, it was sold and acquired by a Frenchman, Louis Rousseau. He demolished the church in order to build an imposing chateau which you will discover on the left wing of the barn. Thirty years later, Alphonse Jacquier de Rosée bought the whole complex and built some copper plants on a nearby site. These remained in business until 1978 but the site is not yet totally overgrown by vegetation.
(The text was inspired by the excellent article by Jean et Dorette Closset-Sovet)
Mr. and Mrs. de Changy, the current owners of the farm, started a farming business here in 1986. Fired up with enthusiasm for the tourist possibilities that it presented, they threw themselves into transforming the first stable into bed and breakfast accommodation. As this was a success, they were spurred on to continue their efforts.The old stables have been stylishly transformed into four holiday lets with all mod cons, which can accommodate from one to thirty-eight guests. The appointment of two multi-purpose rooms in the old barn has enabled the Abbey of Moulins farm to become a popular venue for a variety of events such as weddings, birthday celebrations, seminars or company events with on-site accommodation. The magic of the domain, the beauty of la vallée de la Molignée, the quality of its welcome and the very reasonable tariffs, combine to make it an exceptional place in a very charming setting that many of you will rave about.
If you are interested in the history of the Abbey of Moulins, we suggest you enjoy the very rich religious heritage in the region. The Benedictine abbey of Maredsous is just a short distance away. The Medieval Mosan Heritage House in Bouvignes will remind you that this region was greatly esteemed for its religious silversmithing. Leffe Abbey provides you will an opportunity to sample a range of local produce, which was originally developed by the monks. As for the Caracole beers in Falmignoul, they perhaps play the role of David against the giant Leffe but they are still brewed in the traditional way in copper vats, heated over wood fires. Then there are the beers at Purnode in the brasseries du Bocq, whose origins are linked to the history of the Abbey of Moulins.
Dinant is a town in the principality of Liege, coveted for many years by the Count of Namur. © Jean-Pol Grandmont
You can also discover the local produce when you visit the chateau-farm of Falaën, one of Wallonia’s most picturesque villages. The chateau houses the Museum of the Confrérie de la Gastronomie – Li Crochon. As for the town of Dinant, surely you would not wish to visit without trying its couques, crunchy biscuits made of honey and flour baked in moulds of walnut wood?
If you like things medieval, you will be drawn to the château de Vèves near Celles, classified as one of Wallonia’s exceptional heritage sites. Poilvache enjoys the same classification as well as being a nature reserve and one of the largest medieval strongholds in the Meuse valley. The fortified château of Montaigle ruins still dominate a rocky promontory in the rugged countryside around Falaën.
If you are fascinated by water, may we suggest you visit the gardens at Annevoie? And for those of you who like a bit of a challenge, how about kayaking down the river Lesse?
‘The Name of the Rose‘, by Umberto Eco
Written in the entertaining form of an intelligent detective novel with a theological twist, the author makes a play for liberty, moderation and wisdom, threatened by the forces of folly and darkness. A young monk is called upon not only to solve the enigma but also read into the human soul and question his faith.
Hildegarde von Bingen
Hildegarde von Bingen was the tenth child of a noble family from Bemersheim in the Rhineland. At a very early age, she was entrusted to the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg, where she was educated, becoming a nun at the age of 15 and an abbess at 38. Mystic, painter, author of medical works and a musician, Hildegarde von Bingen was a women in a century which briefly liberated itself from the prejudices of a strongly male-dominated clergy.
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Farm of the Abbey of Moulins
Humbert et Valentine de Changy
rue de la Molignée 50
Tél. +32 82 612942
Fax +32 82 612943
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