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Melleray Abbey (Abbaye de Notre-Dame-de-Melleray) was a Cistercian monastery, founded about the year 1134. It was situated in Brittany, Diocese of Nantes, in La Meilleraye-de-Bretagne in the vicinity of Châteaubriant (in present Loire-Atlantique).
Foulques, Abbot of Pontron in Anjou, founded from Loroux (a daughter of Cîteaux), sent monks for the foundation of a monastery in Brittany. They were chose the solitude of a place near Old Melleray, shown them by Rivallon, pastor of Auverné, which Alain de Moisdon, proprietor of the place, donated to them. Guitern, the first abbot, erected the original monastery in 1145, but the church was not completed until 1183, under Geffroy, the fourth abbot.
Melleray, a small monastery built for about twelve religious, remained regular until during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when relaxation prevailed. Etienne de Brezé (1544) was the first commendatory abbot, and from his time the monastery declined, until toward the end of the seventeenth century when, through the efforts of Dom Jouard, vicar-general of the order, the rule of St. Bernard was re-introduced, and the monastic buildings restored. In 1791 it was suppressed, and the few religious were dispersed.
This, however, was not the end of Melleray. The Trappists, expelled from France, took refuge at Val Sainte, Switzerland; from there Dom Augustine de Lestrange established them in various parts of the world. Through the generosity of Sir Thomas Weld, a wealthy English Catholic and the father of Cardinal Weld, they settled (1795) at Lulworth, Dorset, England. Their monastery was soon created an abbey, and Dom Antoine was elected the first abbot (1813). In 1817, with changed conditions and the restoration of the Bourbons, the monks of Lulworth returned to Melleray.
The restored abbey flourished, increasing from fifty-seven to one hundred and ninety-two members in twelve years. During the Revolution of 1830 they were again persecuted, especially those of foreign birth, of whom they had a great number. To make homes for these they founded Mount Melleray Abbey (1833) in Ireland and Mount Saint Bernard Abbey (1835) in England. Dom Antoine (d. 1839) was succeeded first by Dom Maxime, then by a second Dom Antoine, and finally by Dom Eugene Vachette.
Under Dom Antoine II several monasteries were established, among them Gethsemani Abbey, in the United States. Dom Eugène, elected in 1875, was for many years the vicar-general of the Congregation of La Grande Trappe, and was instrumental in effecting the reunion of the three congregations into one order (1892).
- MANRIQUE, "Annales Cistercienses" (Lyons, 1642);
- JANAUSCHEK, "Originum Cistercienium" (Vienna, 1877);
- HAUREAU, "Gallia Christiana", XIV (1856);
- MORICE, "Preuves de l'Histoire de Bretagne";
- FELIX, "Notice sur l'Abbaye de Melleray" (Nantes, 1884);
- DE CORSON, "L'Abbaye de Melleray avant la Revolution" (St. Brieuc, 1895);
- "Vie du R. P. D. Antoine" (Paris, 1840);
- GAILLARDIN, "Les Trappistes de l'ordre de Citeaux au XIXe s." (2 vols., Paris, 1845);
- RICHER, "Voyage par un Trappiste de 7 Fons" (Paris, 1870); "Grandmaison y Bruno" (Paris, 1852);
- "Archives of Mount Melleray";
- RYAN, "Hist. of the Foundation and First Six Years of Mt. Melleray Abbey";
- HENNESSEY, "Mellifont Abbey, Its Ruins and Associations" (Dublin, 1897);
- HAVTRY (1640), "Triumphalia Chronologica Monast. S. Crucis", ed. MURPHY (Dublin, 1891);
- ROBERT, "Concise Hist. of the Cistercian Order" (London, 1852).