Thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the confreres of Leffe our own Brother Rupert was able to make a pilgrimage to Prémontré recently. The abbey of Prémontré is of course the motherhouse of our entire Order. It was here that in 1120 our Order was founded, where on Christmas Day of that year St. Norbert and his disciples professed their vows. It was here that the habit and the Rule were received and adopted. The ‘Miracles of St. Mary of Laon’ by Herman of Tournai relate how Prémontré was founded;
“Coming to the aforementioned place of Prémontré they enter a little church built there in honour of St. John the Baptist, in order to pray. . . After the bishop finished praying he went outside. He advised the man of God to rise from his prayer because night was coming on and there was no place to stay. The servant of God, coming outside, asked Bartholomew to depart with his men and to permit him to keep vigil there throughout the night. The bishop then quickly mounted his horse, as night was falling. He swiftly rode to Anizy but did not forget about Norbert. By means of a messenger he sent him bread and other necessities. In the morning the bishop returned to him and asked what he wanted to do. Norbert was overjoyed. “I will remain here, Father, because I know that God has destined this place for me. This will be a place of rest for me and here many will be saved by the grace of God. Nor will this little church be the principal site. On another part of this mountain they will build their place of rest. This night in a vision I saw a very great multitude of white robed men carrying silver crosses and candelabra and thuribles and they encircled this place singing as they went.”
Prémontré flourished for many hundreds of years as the motherhouse of the Order. It was secularised during the French Revolution and today it serves as a hospital. However Prémontré naturally retains a place in the heart of every member of our Order.
Hac magis arrisit, nullus in orbe locus:
Quae me suscepit juvenem, fovitque benigno
Laeto sinu; tutumque mihi perfugium
Illecebras contra mundi, quae Relligioni
Me Norbertoeae vota vovere dedit.”
– lines written by J-B L’Ecuy, last abbot of Prémontré
The town of Laon, with its cathedral and the former abbey of St. Martin, lies only some twelve miles from Prémontré. It was the seat of Bishop Bartholomew de Jur who brought St. Norbert to that region of France and encouraged him to settle there. Bartholomew himself later embraced the religious life and became a simple monk at the Cistercian house of Foigny. On first meeting St. Norbert, Bishop Bartholomew was so edified by Our Holy Father that he wished to bring him to his own diocese. At first the good bishop asked St. Norbert to help reform the canons of the abbey of St. Martin. However this was not a success as the canons resisted all the attempts of St. Norbert to lead them to a greater observance of the canonical life. After the foundation of Prémontré and the first flourishing of the Order the abbey of St. Martin was given to the Premonstratensians. The abbey flourished and founded a number of other abbeys, including the abbey of Park in Louvain. It suffered the same fate as Prémontré during the French Revolution and today the church serves as a parish church whilst the abbey buildings are part of a hospital complex.
It is certainly a privilege to visit these sites so inextricably linked to our own Order. Let us pray that God will continue to bless the Order of Prémontré; our Abbot General, all abbots and priors of our houses and all confreres.
“The church, dormitory, refectory and other buildings of this sort which are there [at Prémontré], and a kind of wall around the monastery that has been built by the Blessed Hugh, will clearly say to everyone who comes to look that in the richest and most ancient monasteries of France there can hardly be found a like work. Truly, everyone coming and looking at it will immediately say that this was not done by or through the work of man. It is wonderful in our eyes.” – Herman of Tournai