On my recent trip to Belgium last September, I learned that several Trappist monks from an English abbey were touring the Trappist breweries of Belgium. When I interviewed Marc Knop, brewmaster of Trappist Achel, he said that Brother Joris, famed monk/brewer at Westvletern escorted several monks from England who were beginning the process of adding a brewery to their Abbey. Once I returned to the US, I attempted to find any information about this but came up empty until the end of October when a couple small news stories popped up on English news outlets and finally on the abbey’s website.
“Dear Friends of our Community,
For some time, we have been planning the establishment of a new industry to assist the upkeep of the abbey and provide common work for the monks. Our decision has been to set up a brewery in the Trappist tradition. We are currently engaged in preparatory work. While we are grateful for your interest, we have no more news to communicate for the time being. Further information will be made available in due course. One of the brethren will then be available to answer questions.
With best wishes,
fr Erik Varden
This announcement by Father Erik Varden, Abbot, introduced the world to what may be the next official Trappist brewery: Mount Saint Bernard Abbey of Coalville, Leicestershire, England. According to the Daily Mail, the abbey has been given permission to begin the building process to modify and improve the buildings they need for the brewery. Last year, I reported news that a Trappist abbey in Spain was in process to become the 12th official Trappist brewery. While Cardeña has a beer being produced, it’s currently not being made on site. There’s no word on how progress on their brewery is going.
If work proceeds quickly, Mount Saint Bernard Abbey may beat Cardeña to punch and become the 12th Trappist brewery. Currently, there is no word on what kind of beer they will be brewing. I’ll follow the progress as it happens.
Mount Saint Bernard was founded in 1835 when Ambrose de Lisle provided 222 acres of land hoping to reintroduce monasticism back into England. On Michaelmas, September 29th, of that year Brother Augustine Higgs moved into a nearly ruined cottage. He was soon joined by five other monks and their leader Father Odilo Woolfrey. They decided to call their little community Mount Saint Bernard. They seven monks lived in a 4 room cottage called Tin Meadow. In 1837, their first temporary monastery was built.
With donations from John Talbot, 16th Earl of Schrewsbury, and others, the work on the main buildings was begun. Famed architect Augustus Pugin created the design for the abbey: “The whole of the buildings are erected in the greatest severity of the lancet style, with massive walls and buttresses, long and narrow windows, high gables and roofs, with deeply arched doorways. Solemnity and simplicity are the characteristics of the monastery, and every portion of the architecture and fittings corresponds to the austerity of the Order for whom it has been raised.” The new monastery was opened in 1844. Pugin generously offered his services for free.
Four years after the official dedication of the new buildings, Pope Pius IX promoted Mount Saint Bernard to full abbey status making Dom Bernard Palmer its first abbot and the first full abbot in England since the Protestant Reformation and the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII
The abbey quickly became a popular destination for tourists as well as architects interested in Pugin’s designs. It also hosted many luminaries throughout its history who used the abbey as quiet retreat, including: Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth, Florence Nightingale, & Sir Alec Guinness. Mount Saint Bernard also hosted many of local poor, providing shelter and food when needed. This valuable community service became even more important when the local coalfield suffered from a severe depression in 1878. Many of the locals availed themselves of the abbey’s services.
Like the rest of Europe, Mount Saint Bernard was swept up in the cataclysm that was World War I. Initially, the monks were exempt but eventually the need for able bodies trumped this allowing for 6 monks to be conscripted into the service in 1917. Three were deemed healthy enough to send overseas while the other three served in England.
Besides aiding the poor, the abbey has provided succor to the bodies of English Cistercians. On multiple occasions, workers have discovered grave sites at former Cistercian abbeys. The bodies were reinterred at Mount Saint Bernard. The abbey was even suggested as a final resting place for King Richard III after his body was discovered, although it was ultimately laid to rest at the Anglican Cathedral of Leicester.
The abbey of Mount Saint Bernard officially joined the International Trappist Association in 2017. They’d closed their dairy farm in 2014. Their goal is to provide for the 35 monks while still allowing time for the monks to spend the majority of their time in contemplation. While a dairy farm requires constant work, a brewery’s work comes in spurts. The monks can brew a large volume of beer at once, then let it sit in fermenters until it’s ready for the next stage of its life. This allows plenty of downtime for monks to spend in prayer. The brewery will be operated by monks with assistance from secular workers.
You can read more about the Trappist Breweries and other brewing monasteries at The Brewing Monks.