The Abbaye de Villers (Villers Abbey), situated in the commune of Villers-la-Ville (Belgium) in grounds of more than 36 hectares, is a destination site imbued with history and emotion.
It was founded in the 12th Century, under the aegis of Saint Bernard. Today, its majestic ruins give a marvellous idea of the life of monks of the Cistercian Order.
What you can find here: over 850 years of history and lots of activities to suit all ages: theme-based, guided visits, family discovery walks, activity days, open air concerts and theatre, exhibitions, walks around the Abbey and more.
In 1146, by invitation of the Lord of Marbais and his mother Judith, and through the impetus given by of Saint Bernard, one abbot, twelve monks and five lay brothers made the journey from Clairvaux to Villers to found an abbey there (Villers I). A few months later, they re-sited the monastery, lower down in the valley (Villers II). The site was ideal : seclusion, plenty of water, and all the necessary building materials.
The earliest buildings no longer exist : the Abbey was completely rebuilt by the end during the 13th Century (Villers III), the great temporal and spiritual Golden Age. Some of the abbots were then called to high church functions, and the texts that have come down to us mention many saint monks and lay brothers in the community.
According to the chronicle the Abbey numbered in those days no fewer than one hundred monks and three times as many lay brothers.
The estate covered a good twenty-five thousand acres, dotted between Antwerp and Namur and managed by different grangiae. Villers also benefited from the protection of the powerful Dukes of Brabant.
The first internal crises appeared from the Middle Ages on (fewer lay brothers, …). The Abbey experienced a succession of calm and troubled times in the 16th and 17th centuries, during which the monks fled the premises nine times because of insecurity.
However, the 18th Century proved to be a second Golden Age for the Abbey, a period during which some mediaeval buildings were modernised in classical style. In 1796 the revolutionary French administration closed the Abbey and sold it off as a national property to a materials merchant.
The still-splendid ruins of the monastery attracted the Romantics throughout the 19th Century. The first restoration work began in 1893. There would be no further large scale restoration until 1984 if is still in progress.
Based on: Villers-la-Ville. Ruines de l'abbaye de Villers, in Le patrimoine majeur de Wallonie, Liège, 1993, pgs. 57-62. To know more, ... Various guides or publications on the Abbey are available at the entrance to the ruins or in our documentation centre.