In the early 17th century, Crisóstomo Henríquez told the story of the famous Villers Abbey. By 1796, the abbey was abandoned.
Built in 1146, a dozen monks and 3 lay brothers came from Clairvaux to the Walloon Brabant province of Wallonia to establish a Cistercian abbey. After a few false starts in what turned out to be less than ideal locations, abbaye de Villers started to come together, and although it took 70 years, the abbey came to fruition when the refectory was finally finished in 1267.
Despite the incredibly slow start, the abbey soon showed itself to be worth the weight, over the next few centuries, it housed up to 100 monks and 300 lay brothers at a time, its grounds swelling to 100 acres. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the holy place started to lose ground.
Spanish tercios, dwindling funds and a shortage of monks did considerable damage to the abbey, but it was the French Revolution that finally put the ancient monastery out to pasture. The building was completely abandoned by 1796, and when a railway line was built through the grounds in 1855, the abbey and the acreage it sat on fell even further into disrepair.
Disregarded for almost 100 years, the state of Belgium finally stepped in, bought the property and began conservation efforts, which kicked into a considerably higher gear by the 1970s once it was declared an official historic site. Now maintained regularly by the Association pour la Promotion Touristique et Culturelle de Villers, its former Cistercian-style beauty is being revisited in several of the outbuildings including the dorms, kitchen, refectory, cloister, and most importantly, the brewing house.
Now you can bring a picnic lunch and wander the grounds of this ancient piece of history being brought back to life. Better yet, explore as you sample some of Belgium’s finest beers in the local Le Moulin de Villers restaurant across the street from the abbey grounds. Guided visits, activity days, and a variety of concerts and choral arrangements are offered in this serene place of worship being raised from the dead.