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La Trappe Abbey or La Grande Trappe is a monastery in Soligny-la-Trappe, Orne, France, and the house of origin of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.: Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae), Reformed Cistercians or Trappists, to whom it gave its name.
The site of the famous La Trappe Abbey was for centuries an isolated one in a valley surrounded by forests, streams and lakes, 9 miles from Mortagne and 84 miles from Paris, in the Diocese of Séez and the former province of Normandy.
It began as a small oratory chapel to the Virgin Mary, built in 1122 by Rotrou III, Count of Perche, as a memorial to his wife Matilda (illegitimate daughter of Henry I), who drowned in the White Ship disaster of 1120. A few years later he built a monastery adjoining, which he offered to the monks of Breuil-Benoît Abbey near Dreux, a house of the Order of Savigny, highly respected at that time for its fervour and holiness. In 1140 the monastery of La Trappe was itself raised to the status of abbey. In 1147 Savigny Abbey, with all its affiliated monasteries, was united to the Cistercian Order, and from that time onwards La Trappe was a Cistercian abbey, immediately subordinate to the abbot of Clairvaux.
After years of prosperity, La Trappe found itself in the path of the English and French armies during the Hundred Years' War and suffered accordingly. The monks were forced to abandon the monastery, which was burnt and pillaged in 1376 and again in 1465.
In the 16th century, after the reconstruction, the abbey, in common with many other monasteries, was given to a series of absentee abbots "in commendam", which depressed its fortunes still further.
However, the 14th commendatory abbot, installed in 1662, Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, stepson of Cardinal Richelieu, proved against all expectation to be La Trappe's greatest leader. De Rancé experienced a religious conversion which caused him to take his responsibilities seriously and to become abbot in fact as well as in name. From 1664 La Trappe was the centre of a thorough reform of the Cistercian Order, led by de Rancé, to which the abbey gave its name, and which made it famous.
Bossuet, a friend of de Rancé, was a frequent visitor at La Trappe. James II of England came here while a refugee in France. The distinguished Benedictine scholar, Dom Jean Mabillon, after his long quarrels with de Rancé, visited him here to make peace with him.
The abbey did not escape the general fate of religious houses under the French Revolution and pursuant to the decree of 13 February 1790 against the religious orders of France, was suppressed. Some of the monks were martyred. Others, under the then abbot, Dom Augustin de Lestrange, went into exile, initially at La Valsainte Charterhouse in Switzerland.
The abbey was sold as national property, but in 1815 was re-purchased by Dom Augustin. However, the premises were ruinous when the community returned to them, and the monastery had to be entirely rebuilt. The new church was consecrated on 30 August 1832.
In 1880 the Trappists were again expelled under the French laws against religious institutions, but were able to return after a couple of years. The monastery was entirely rebuilt under the 45th abbot, Dom Etienne Salasc; the new church was consecrated on 30 August 1895.
These are the buildings, in Neo-Gothic style, which are still to be seen, and are still occupied by the Trappist community, under the leadership of abbot Dom Guerric Reitz-Séjotte, appointed in 2004. La Trappe Abbey directly supervises four other Trappist houses, at Bellefontaine in Anjou, Timadeuc in Brittany, Échourgnac in Dordogne, and Tre Fontane in Italy.
- "La Trappe". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/La_Trappe.
- La Trappe Abbey website