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It was founded on 15 November 1872 by Beuron Abbey in Germany, the founder of many religious houses, at the instigation of Hildebrand de Hemptinne, a Belgian monk at Beuron and later abbot of Maredsous.
The foundation was supported financially by the Desclée family, who paid for the design and construction of the spectacular buildings, which are the masterwork of the architect Jean-Baptiste de Béthune (1831–1894), leader of the neo-gothic style in Belgium. The overall plan is based on the 13th century Cistercian abbey of Villers at Villers-la-Ville in Walloon Brabant. The frescos however were undertaken by the art school of the mother-house at Beuron, much against the will of Béthune and Desclée, who dismissed the Beuron style as "Assyrian-Bavarian". Construction was finished in 1892.
Maredsous has either founded, or has been instrumental in the foundation of, a number of other Benedictine houses: St Anselm in Rome (1893); abbeys in Brazil (1895); St-Andries in Zevenkerken, Bruges (1899); Keizersberg Abbey in Leuven (1899); Glenstal Abbey in Ireland (1927); Gihindamuyaga in Rwanda (1958); Quévy Abbey in Hainaut (1969).
School of art
The idea of an art school, inspired by that at the mother house, led to the foundation of the School of Applied Arts and Crafts, also known as the St. Joseph School. There was a difference of opinion as to whether it should serve more as a place for training poor children as carpenters, blacksmiths, plumbers and cobblers, or whether it should function more as a centre of fine arts and crafts. It was the latter view that prevailed when the school opened in 1903 under the leadership of Father Pascal Rox, and in due course the production began of neo-gothic works of high quality (vestments, pieces of silver, bindings and so on) destined mostly for the abbey itself. The school's activities were curtailed by World War I and it was almost closed down in 1919, but it survived by widening its remit to undertaking paid work in a more modern style for outside customers. From 1939 onwards, the emphasis changed more explicitly towards the training of artists rather than skilled craftsmen. In 1964, after establishing an international reputation, the school merged with the Namur School of Crafts to form the I.A.T.A. (Technical Institute of Arts and Crafts) .
Maredsous Abbey is also known for the production of Maredsous cheese. It is a loaf-shaped cheese made from cow's milk. The cheese is lightly pressed, then washed in brine to create the firm, orange crust and pungent aroma.
The abbey currently makes five varieties: Maredsous Tradition, Mi-Vieux (half old), Fumé (smoked), Fondu (fondue), Frais (the fresh cheese), Light, and Fagotin.
Bl Columba Marmion
The Blessed Columba Marmion (1858–1923) was abbot here between 1909 and 1923, and is buried in the abbey church.
- Misonne, Daniel, 2005. En parcourant l'histoire de Maredsous. Editions de Maredsous.