In the Rochefort region, the arable land is relatively poor
To wheat and oat fields we therefore prefer meadows planted with fruit trees and high forests: it is a breeding region as well as a forest reserve; it is also a country of excursion whose sites and horizons are sought after by artists for their serious, even austere, beauty.
As such, it suited monks ... in fact, it was first Cistercian nuns who lived there for a little over two centuries. In the year 1229, indeed, Gilles de Walcourt, Lord of Rochefort, founded an abbey for them which was called "Secours Notre Dame" (Latin: "Succursus Dominae Nostrae").
In the 15th Century, vocations and religious fervor declined. In 1464, the nuns of St Rémy took care of Felipré (near Givet), better suited to their condition. The monks of this monastery came to Rochefort and on November 11, 1464, Arnould de Maison-Neuve was elected first abbot.
The abbey then experienced a period of relative tranquility, until the middle of the 17th century. On May 1, 1650, the Lorraine troops, under the command of Baron De Châtelet, looted the abbey and marked their banditry with a desecration of the Eucharist. The armies of Condé, in 1653, finished destroying by fire what the Lorraine people had spared.
The monks returned in 1664 to rebuild their abbey. The church was rebuilt in 1671. The tranquility lasted a good century, but religious fervor was dull and when the revolution broke out, the number of religious was much reduced.
The abbey (II)
Around 1755, discipline left much to be desired in the abbey and the Abbot Henri de Villegia announced a severe ordinance which stipulated that a monk was "forbidden to take tea, coffee, chocolate, liqueurs, wine, smoke, play cards, under penalty of being confined in his room for a whole day."
At the end of the old regime, the monks asked the court of Rome to release them from their vows. In 1792, the Pope secularized the abbey and authorized the monks to bear the title of canon.
The monks shared the silverware, linens, the library, income and lived independently, each in his own space, with his servant. They were then 8 in number.
In May 1794, the Moselle army, commanded by Jourdan, invaded the abbey but were content to merely remove food supplies and valuables, leaving no ruins behind. The populace sought to complete the task, invading the Monastery, smashing stained-glass windows and furniture and looting the library. The abbey of St Rémy was sold in 1796. It was acquired by an individual who had the church and the regular places demolished. Using the materials he removed, he built various buildings in Rochefort that still exist. The last abbot of St Rémy, Armand de La Pierre, died dean of Rochefort in 1822.
In 1887, Saint Rémy was bought by Abbé Sény, who donated it to the Abbey of Achel. In December of the same year, they placed their first colony of religious there. The abbey went through the two wars, managing to survive despite the German occupation.
Today, Saint Rémy employs about thirty religious of the Order of the Trappist Cistercians.
The three themes of its motto "Curvata Resurgo" (Curved, I stand up) illustrate the three theological virtues: the palm tree (faith), the star (hope) and the rose (charity).
The brewery (I)
Brewing has been done for a very long time at the Abbey of Rochefort. The oldest documents, mentioning the making of beer among the manual activities of the monks, date from 1595. At that time the brewery was only an annex of the important farm operated by the community. Besides barley, it also cultivated hops. The French revolution drove out the brothers, and the brewery did not survive them.
The monks, back in 1887, waited for 1899 and the end of the reconstruction period to reinstall a small brewery which has been operating without interruption since that date. Neither the two world wars, nor the total transformation of the brewing room, have ever interrupted the manufacture of Trappist Rochefort.
The brewery was started by brother Zozime Jansen, formerly a brewer in Oosterhout in the Netherlands. The start-up conditions are very modest: a few bottles bought second-hand were washed in the laundry room, corked with a wooden mallet and transported to the thrifty father who distributed according to the needs of the community.
Interior of the brewery - Photo Luca Galuzzi (www.galuzzi.it)
After a while, the monks acquired a bottle washer and a four-nozzle racking device, which increased productivity and emptied a 600-liter keg in ... one and a half hours.
During the First World War, brother Paulin Cattoir took control of the brewery after going to learn with the brewer Pirlot in the nearby village of Lessive. Removed from the brewery for a while, due to manufacturing errors, he was replaced by his younger brother.
When the latter died in 1941, Brother Paulin returned to service. But many restrictions made brewing conditions difficult, and the beer had a concentration of only 0.8 °. A specialty of 5 ° was authorized on an exceptional basis and called "beer for the sick." Upon release, a “liberator” cuvée at 2 ° was produced. At that time, beer at 5 ° sold well but not enough to get production off the ground, so the abbey voluntarily restricted itself and put its priorities elsewhere.
The brewery of the monastery ...
In 1949, demand was strong, and a larger truck was purchased for delivery. It was at this time that Chimay's Trappist beer began to expand. The distribution agreements signed by Chimay authorized the sale of their beer everywhere in Belgium, including in the territory of Rochefort. Father de Rochefort complained about it to his colleagues in Chimay, who regretted having to admit that the signed distribution contract did not allow them to prevent this ...
The monks of Scourmont then offered to help Rochefort make a beer that could compete with the famous Chimay beer.
Professor De Clerck from Louvain was consulted by the monks of Rochefort and concluded that the working methods needed to be reviewed: microbiological controls, hygiene, etc., had to be implemented in order to be able to significantly improve the quality of production. From the end of 1952, new equipment was acquired in this direction.
In February 1953, the new beer went on sale for the first time. Its alcohol content was one degree higher than the previous beer and it quickly became popular.
Several father brewers followed one another. Brother Antoine assumed this role until 1997, when Vital Streignard, a lay employee of the abbey, was called upon to replace him.
To present itself in its current appearance, the brewery (and all that depends on it) has undergone many modifications: the installations are regularly adapted to modern techniques. The current equipment is among the most efficient for a brewery of this size. This is the case with the filler, capable of filling tens of thousands of bottles per day. The current brewing room dates from 1960 but the facilities were renovated in 1974. Annual production is around 13 to 15,000 HL per year and remains limited to the strict needs of the abbey.
Currently, around ten external collaborators come to help in the manufacture of beer within the Abbey of Rochefort.