The Carthusian Abbey of Neuville (Nôtre-Dame des Prés) is an impressive abbey, of which we have already seen similar examples in Pavia (near Milan) and Padula (Cilento). It is located two kilometers east of Montreuil and is just visible from the city walls.
The abbey can be visited (only with a French speaking guide). We therefore provide some general information about the Carthusians in general and about the abbey in particular.
The Carthusian Order was founded by Bruno van Keulen. He studied in Reims, became bishop in Grenoble and archbishop in Reims. When he was replaced by the pope's candidate, he retired to the convent of Robert of Molesmes, the founder of the Cistercians. In 1084 Hugo van Grenoble donated an inhospitable piece of land near Grenoble, where he withdrew with a number of companions and laid the foundations of the Carthusian monastic order, named after the Massif of the Chartreuse. He spent only 6 years in the abbey and was then called to Rome by Pope Urban II, to whom he had been teaching in Reims. The basic rules of the monastic order were drawn up by Guigues, the 5th prior of the Grande Chartreuse.
Some facts about the kartuizers
- The Carthusians are a contemplative order of hermits who live in seclusion, yet in community. Through this life in community, the Carthusians can fully devote themselves to prayer and comtemplation.
- The motto of the Carthusians is: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis (the world turns, while the cross stands). The stars at the top refer to Saint Bruno and his six companions who founded the first abbey in the Chartreuse. This motto can usually be found at the entrance of the abbey, together the saying 'o Bonitas'. (Kindness), which refers to the reaction St. Bruno would have had when entering the piece of land that was given to him.
- A final proverb that you often find with regard to the Carthusians is ‘ numquam reformata, quia numquam reformanda ’ refers to the rule of life of the Carthusians who never had to be reformed because they never deviated from it and so there was no need for reform.
- The fathers (les Pères) each live in a sober home. Every day they come together for the celebrations. For the rest, they have a duty of silence. The silence can only be broken in the chapter house, where they meet regularly.
- The brothers (les Frères) live together in the front part of the monastery and provide for the maintenance of the fathers.
- The prior, one of the fathers, is the intermediary between the fathers and the brothers
- All Carthusian monasteries are built on the same structure
- At the front are the rooms of the brothers and the workshops
- In the middle are the communal rooms around a small courtyard: the church, the chapter house, the library
- At the back are the 'houses' of the fathers around a large courtyard. Each cottage has 4 rooms and a private garden.
The abbey in Neuville-sous-Montreuil was founded in 1328 by the count Robert of Boulogne. It was destroyed several times over the centuries. After the devastation during the French Revolution, it was only rebuilt in 1870. In 1901, with the introduction of the split between Church and State, the monks were expelled and they moved to the abbey of Parkville in England. They could take most of the artefacts with them.
Then it was taken into use as a hospital and sanatorium. In the first world war it became a military hospital where also large numbers of refugees from Belgium were admitted. After the Second World War, the abbey became a shelter for psychiatric patients.
In 2000, the abbey was sold to the Sisters of Bethlehem. However, they soon realized that the restoration would cost too much. Through the discovery of the 'house mushroom' (Mérule) they could also dispute their purchase.
In 2008, the abbey was acquired by a group of private investors, who are gradually restoring the abbey.
During a visit, pay attention to the following aspects:
- At the entrance gate you will find the inscription: Cartusia S. Mariae de Pratis (Chartreuse de Marie-des-Près). Above it is the statue of Mary, flanked by the Count of Boulogne who gave her the first monastery.
- At the first courtyard (la Cour d 'honneur) you see on the north side the lodgings of the brothers and workshops. On the south side is the residence of the bishop (who only visited here between 1870 and 1901).
- The chapel is divided into a first part for the brothers, where the dark paneling symbolizes the secular. Above this, the lighter colors are symbolic of the spiritual. Visitors could attend the services on the balcony (only men allowed).
The second part was for the fathers. The dark wall coverings were overpainted by the sisters of Bethlehem.
- The cloister shows the building materials : limestone for the walls, Soignies' black marble for the floor. The monastic corridor, in contrast to other monasteries, is closed with glass as protection for the rain and the cold. Little is left of the original glass windows. Most windows were destroyed by the impact of a V1 bomb in the Second World War.
- In the chapter house you will again find the contrast between the dark wall coverings and the lighter colors at the top.
- The library contained 12,000 works that could be borrowed by the fathers. It was used in the First World War as a dormitory and recreation room (even as cinema).
- Around the monastery garden there are 24 houses for the priests. Each cottage has 2 rooms downstairs, where the fathers could perform their secular activities. They could work in the garden, but they were not allowed to grow fruit or vegetables, which would improve their living conditions. The upper floor was the living space, where they exercised their spiritual activities.
- From the cloister garden you can also see the two towers, one for the spiritual part, a second one for the secular part.
- At the cemetery in the cloister garden there are only 6 crosses, without mentioning the name. When a cross faded, it was assumed that the body was also gone, and the ground could therefore be used again.
- Behind the cemetery are two small chapels
- The chapel of Saint Benoit Labre, a hermit from the 18th century, who moved from abbey to abbey but was nowhere accepted as a father. He became the patron saint for the homeless.
- The death chapel. Opposite this chapel is a special residence, where the oldest priests were housed, so that they were not only closer to the chapel for the services but also closer to the death chapel and the cemetery to remind them that they were of dust and ash and would return to dust and ashes.
- Sometimes thematic exhibitions are organized in the dining room of the brothers.
Visit for groups can be requested throughout the year. Individual visitors can only visit from April 11 to November 1. There are guided tours at 11.00, 14.30, 15.30 and 16.30 hours. The entrance fee is 10 EUR.