A certain noblewoman by the name of Ermesindis, the Countess of Namur, hearing that Norbert was passing through, quickly hastened to meet him and eagerly requested that he accept a church in the village of Floreffe and there install members of his religious community. For some time she had desired to establish a religious community in that church for the salvation of her own soul and those of her forebears. Norbert considered the loving devotion of the woman and undertook what she requested. – from ‘Vita A’ of St. Norbert

Through the kindness of the confreres of Leffe Br. Rupert was able to visit the abbey of Floreffe recently. Floreffe was founded in November 1121. Our Holy Father Norbert was returning from Cologne where he had collected relics for the church at Prémontré when he was received by Count Godfrey and Countess Ermensindis of Namur. The Count and Countess were so impressed by St. Norbert that they asked him to found a monastery at Floreffe. One of Norbert’s first disciples, Richard, became first abbot of Floreffe and in succeeding years the abbey grew in size and influence.

The abbey is particularly noted as the place of a miracle in the life of Our Holy Father Norbert;

Altar on which St. Norbert celebrated Mass

While celebrating Mass at Floreffe, the saint saw a drop of Blood issuing from the Sacred Host to the paten. Distrusting his own eyes, he said to the deacon who assisted him: “Brother, do you see what I see?” “Yes, Father” answered the deacon, “I see a drop of Blood which gives out a brilliant light”.

The altar-stone on which the miracle occurred is still preserved; now placed in the baroque altar-piece that dominates the abbey church. After Prémontré and Laon, Floreffe was third in rank of the Order’s abbeys. During the first two centuries of its existence the abbey was heavily subsidised by the counts of Namur giving rise to an era of great vitality; several hospices were constructed on the site and a number of daughter houses were founded from Floreffe, including the present abbeys of Leffe and Postel. The Canons of Floreffe responded to the call of Innocent III by sending Abbot Amalric and his companions to preach in the Holy Land in 1136; there they established the Abbey of St. Habbakuk, at Ramleh. This period was also one of artistic flourishing – the Floreffe Bible can be seen in our own British Museum. The abbey was also known as a place of pilgrimage, possessing a relic of the True Cross from which blood was seen to flow (this relic is now at Bois-Seigneur-Isaac). The reliquary designed to hold the True Cross can now be seen in the Louvre.

The growth of the abbey also affected the local community; in the twelfth century the citizens of Floreffe received the same rights and privileges as those living in Namur. The town was walled and towers and gates were built. The 14th and 15th centuries were sombre ones in the history the abbey, with internal discord and a slackening of the religious life. The 16th and 17th centuries were marked with the discord of the time, but produced some remarkable abbots including William Dupaix (1552-78) the humanist poet. The 18th century was a time of great building – as reflected in the present condition of the abbey’s architecture.

The abbey church is some 100 meters long, decorated in baroque style and executed by Dewez from 1770-1775.. Elements of the earlier romanesque church still survive and from inside the roof of the church we were able to view the 12th century wall paintings with which the church was first decorated. The choir stalls are certainly unrivalled in design and were executed by Enderlin, a German sculptor who worked at Floreffe from 1632 until 1648. Each stall bears different features and the primary decoration is of founders of religious orders, as well as saints of our own Order.

A section of the choir stalls

With the French Revolution and the invasion of Belgium by the Republican forces the abbey was confiscated from the religious. In 1797 the abbot was able to purchase the abbey back and with the 1801 concordat the community was able to return. Yet the difficulties of restoration proved all too great and with the death of the last canon the abbey became the property of the Bishop of Namur and for a time was a seminary. Today the abbey is a mixed school, but still open to visitors. For more information please click here.

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