The Trappist Order

The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also known as the Trappist order, is a Roman Catholic contemplative religious order, and forms part of the larger Cistercian family. The name “Trappist” comes from the French La Trappe abbey. This was the first monastic community to adopt a strict and rigorous interpretation of the monastic rules of the Cistercian order and became the model for the spiritual reformation of other ‘Trappist’ abbeys.


According to the Rule of Saint Benedict, monastic life is summarised by the motto “ora et labora” (pray and work). Prayer is therefore the central element of the monks’ lives. However, alongside prayer, the monks and nuns also dedicate a large part of their time to manual labour. Such labour is executed as a form of solidarity and service and therefore it is seen as if it were a silent prayer. The Trappists produce a wide range of goods, for example beer, cheese, soap and honey. The income from sales of these products provides for the material needs of the monastery and for its social work in the community.


The International Trappist Association

The International Trappist Association ( ) is a non-profit organisation, composed of 20 Trappist monasteries, which promotes the value of economic activities within the monasteries. According to the International Trappist Association, Trappist produce needs to respect certain key criteria in order to achieve and maintain the label of “Authentic Trappist product”:


  • There is a strong link between the crafting process and the abbey: the goods must be produced inside the abbey and under the supervision of the monks.
  • Since the work is part of monastic life, it must respect its values. As such, product marketing must be in accordance with the sobriety proper to a Cistercian lifestyle.
  • The additional profit derived from sales is used for the subsistence of the Trappist community and for social work.



As head of the Cistercian order, the abbot of Cîteaux’s power began to wane during the 16th century, triggering significant local initiatives of religious reform. In 1601, the Cistercian abbots decided to establish a common basis of interpretation of the order’s rules. However, some abbots decided to engage in more radical reforms. They particularly stressed the need for close adherence to the order’s fundamental strictures, restoring the obligations of eight hours of work per day, complete silence, daily spiritual readings and private prayer for each monk, the solitude of seclusion, complete poverty and the use of penitential practices.


In 1664 the abbot of La Trappe, Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, adopted these reforms. His embracement of these reforms could be considered to be the foundation of the Trappist order. Indeed, de Rancé was central to the revitalisation of the project of reform of the Strict Observance, and between 1664 and 1670 the number of monks at La Trappe rapidly increased. Furthermore, during this period, several Cistercian abbeys in France and Northern Europe joined and took on the La Trappe reforms.


De Rancé promoted a stricter observance of the monastic rules than that of the Strict Observance. According to de Rancé, the basic concept of monastic spirituality was “love”, which was seen as the foundation of the monk’s entire religious experience. This included the monk’s relations with God, with his superiors, with co-friars and with other monks. De Rancé also stressed the importance of prayer in a monk’s life and defined the main features of Trappist spirituality as: the assumption of love as the measure of a monk’s life, the importance of spiritual education as well as of daily work, the observance of rules concerning food and penitence, and the communitarian dimension of the monastic life.


With the progression of the French Revolution the Trappists, together with other monastic orders, experienced a turbulent period of persecution and hardship. With respect to the Cistercians, the restoration of the order of Cîteaux was led by the Trappists. During the decades of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic Wars, Dom Augustin de Lestrange (1754-1827) had attempted to preserve the spiritual experience of Trappist monks.


Elected abbot of La Trappe, de Lestrange became the point of reference for the reconstruction of the order in the first half of the 19th century. During this period, de Lestrange played a crucial role in the revival and spread of the Trappists. Following the fall of the Napoleonic Empire, several of the abbeys founded or re-founded at this time followed the Réglements (‘rules’) which he wrote.


Foundation of Notre Dame of Orval Abbey


Notre Dame of Orval Abbey becomes a Cistercian community


Affiliation of the abbey of La Trappe to the Cîteaux Order


Foundation of Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy Abbey in Rochefort


Foundation of Mariawald Abbey


Foundation of the Antonine Community of Mont des Cats


The Notre Dame of Orval Abbey joins the reform of La Trappe


After the French Revolution a decree of the government was directed against all the religious orders in France.


The Abbey of La Trappe was suppressed. The monks escaped in Switzerland.


The Antonine Community of the Mont des Cats was closed because of the decree of the French government against the religious orders


Foundation of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Westmalle by the monks escaped from La Trappe


Foundation of the Abbey of Saint Mary of Mont des Cats as a Cistercian community


Foundation of Sixt-Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren


Westmalle becomes a Trappist Abbey


Foundation of Sint Benedictus Abbey of Achel by the monks of Westmalle.


Foundation of the Scourmont Abbey of Chimay by the Trappist monks of Sint-Sixtus


The ancient Abbey of Mariawald was re-occupied by Trappist monks


Foundation of Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven by the Abbey of Mont des Cats


Restoration of the Abbey of Saint-Remy in Rochefort by the monks of Achel


Foundation of Our Lady of Refuge Abbey in Zundert by the monks of Koningshoeven


Foundation of Our Lady of Nazareth Abbey in Brecht


More abbeys and their region