From monk to layman
Faced with revolutionary secularization and anticlerical laws, the aïcs appropriated the abbey beers ...
The abbeys had long known wars, looting and military and political destruction. The French Revolution and the movements that followed nearly delt them a fatal blow, due to the suppression of Orders and Congregations. On November 2, 1789, the Constituent Assembly decided on an almost total confiscation of the property of the Church, abbeys, convents and regular clergy with a view to their resale as national property to finance the French State in the midst of the financial crisis.
This revolutionary secularization was implemented by Napoleon until about 1814, and applied widely to French territory, which at that time included significant parts of present-day Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy.
The many abbeys, priories and monasteries in these territories were also affected by these confiscations and resales.
It was not until a slow return to the abbeys, in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, that the monks began to brew again.
The monks found it necessary to ensure their subsistence in an environment now much less subject to religious orders.
In France, the respite was short. The expulsions of 1880 and 1903, followed by the separation of Church and State in 1905 when the Radical Party came to power, forced many abbeys to close, in particular those with breweries. These breweries were sold to lay people; most eventually closed.
Many monastic communities chose to leave France following the law of 1905. Another reason for the near disappearance of abbey breweries in France was the First World War and the destruction of many abbeys. After the war, the communities which rebuilt no longer erected breweries, which had not done well, and instead reoriented themselves towards other types of businesses: religious art, beauty products, home decoration, and groceries, including chocolates, liqueurs, wines, and cheeses. Beer held up better in some monasteries in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
But many lay brewers took up the torch and continued, in the tradition of the monks, to brew beers with a monastic or religious connotation. Benefiting from the image of undeniable quality built over the centuries by the monks, these lay brewers contribute, even today, to bringing abbeys beers to life. Despite the very sharp decrease in the number of real monastic breweries over the past two centuries, so-called "abbey" beers remain very popular.