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Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance
Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae
Trappist website logo 2018.png
Logo of the Trappists.
Armand Bouthillier Rance.jpg
Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, the founder of the Trappists
Formation1664;355 years ago (1664)
Founder Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé
Founded at La Trappe Abbey
Type Catholic religious order
HeadquartersViale Africa, 33
Rome, Italy
Abbot General
Eamon Fitzgerald
Parent organization
Catholic Church

The Trappists, officially known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Latin : Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae, abbreviated as OCSO) and originally named the Order of Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe, [1] are a Catholic religious order of cloistered monastics that branched off from the Cistercians. They follow the Rule of Saint Benedict and have communities of both monks and nuns that are known as Trappists and Trappistines, respectively. They are named after La Trappe Abbey, the monastery from which the movement and religious order originated. The movement first began with the reforms that Abbot Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé introduced in 1664, later leading to the creation of Trappist congregations, and eventually the formal constitution as a separate religious order in 1892.

Religious order (Catholic) Type of religious community in the Roman Catholic Church characterised by its members professing solemn vows

In the Catholic Church, a religious order is a type of religious community characterised by its members professing solemn vows. According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, they are classed as a type of religious institute.

Enclosed religious orders Christian religious orders separated from the external world

Enclosed religious orders of the Christian churches have solemn vows with a strict separation from the affairs of the external world. The term cloistered is synonymous with enclosed. In the Catholic Church enclosure is regulated by the code of canon law, either the Latin code or the Oriental code, and also by subsidiary legislation. It is practised with a variety of customs according to the nature and charism of the community in question.

Monasticism religious way of life

Monasticism or monkhood is a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work. Monastic life plays an important role in many Christian churches, especially in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Similar forms of religious life also exist in other faiths, most notably in Buddhism, but also in Hinduism and Jainism, although the expressions differ considerably. By contrast, in other religions monasticism is criticized and not practiced, as in Islam and Zoroastrianism, or plays a marginal role, as in Judaism.



The order takes its name from La Trappe Abbey or La Grande Trappe, located in the French province of Normandy, where the reform movement began. Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, originally the commendatory abbot of La Trappe, led the reform. As commendatory abbot, de Rancé was a secular individual who obtained income from the monastery but was not a professed monk and otherwise had no monastic obligations. The second son of Denis Bouthillier, a Councillor of State, he possessed considerable wealth and was earmarked for an ecclesiastical career as coadjutor bishop to the Archbishop of Tours. However, after undergoing a conversion of life between 1660 and 1662, de Rancé renounced his possessions, formally joined the abbey, and became its regular abbot in 1663. [2]

La Trappe Abbey abbey located in Orne, in France

La Trappe Abbey or La Grande Trappe is a monastery in Soligny-la-Trappe, Orne, France. It is known for being the house of origin of the Trappists, formally known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, to whom it gave its name.

Normandy Administrative region of France

Normandy is the northwesternmost of the 18 regions of France, roughly referring to the historical Duchy of Normandy.

A commendatory abbot is an ecclesiastic, or sometimes a layman, who holds an abbey in commendam, drawing its revenues but not exercising any authority over its inner monastic discipline. If a commendatory abbot is an ecclesiastic, however, he may have limited jurisdiction.

Orval Abbey in Belgium Orval church etychon 200611.jpg
Orval Abbey in Belgium

In 1664, in reaction to the relaxation of practices in many Cistercian monasteries, de Rancé introduced an austere reform. [3] [4] de Rancé's reform was first and foremost centered on penitence; it prescribed hard manual labour, silence, a meagre diet, isolation from the world, and renunciation of most studies. The hard labour was in part a penitential exercise, in part a way of keeping the monastery self-supportive so that communication with the world might be kept at a minimum. This movement spread to many other Cistercian monasteries, which took up de Rancé's reforms. In time, these monasteries also spread and created new foundations of their own. These monasteries called themselves "Trappist" in reference to La Trappe, the source and origin of their reforms.

In 1792, during the French Revolution, La Trappe Abbey, like all other monasteries at the time, was confiscated by the French government and the Trappists expelled. Augustin de Lestrange, a monk of La Trappe at that time, led a number of monks to establish a new monastery in the ruined and unroofed former Carthusian charterhouse of Val-Sainte in the Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland, where the monks subsequently carried out an even more austere reform practising the ancient observances of Saint Benedict and the first usages of Cîteaux. In 1794, Pope Pius VI raised Val-Sainte to the status of an abbey and motherhouse of the Trappists, and Dom Augustin was elected the first abbot of the abbey and the leader of the Trappist congregation. However, in 1798, when the French invaded Switzerland, the monks were again exiled and had to roam different countries seeking to establish a new home, until Dom Augustin and his monks of Val-Sainte were finally able to re-establish a community in La Trappe. [5]

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Augustin de Lestrange was a French Trappist abbot, an exile from France after the French Revolution.

La Valsainte Charterhouse monastery

La Valsainte Charterhouse or La Valsainte situated in La Valsainte in the district of Gruyère, Canton of Fribourg, is the only remaining extant Carthusian monastery in Switzerland.

In 1834, the Holy See formed all French monasteries into the Congregation of the Cisterican Monks of Notre-Dame de la Trappe, with the abbot of La Trappe being the vicar general of the congregation. However, there were differences in observances between the dependencies of Val-Sainte and those of Notre-Dame de l'Eternité, an abbey itself founded by Val-Sainte in 1795. This led to two different Trappist congregations being formed by decree of the Holy See in 1847. These were named the 'Ancient Reform of Our Lady of La Trappe' and the 'New Reform of Our Lady of La Trappe', the former following the Constitutions of de Rancé, with the latter following the Rule of Saint Benedict combined with the ancient constitution of Cîteaux, except in a few areas prescribed by the Holy See in the same decree. [5]

Holy See Episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy

The Holy See, also called the See of Rome, refers to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope, which includes the apostolic episcopal see of the Diocese of Rome with universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church, as well as a sovereign entity of international law.

A vicar general is the principal deputy of the bishop of a diocese for the exercise of administrative authority and possesses the title of local ordinary. As vicar of the bishop, the vicar general exercises the bishop's ordinary executive power over the entire diocese and, thus, is the highest official in a diocese or other particular church after the diocesan bishop or his equivalent in canon law. The title normally occurs only in Western Christian churches, such as the Latin Church of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. Among the Eastern churches, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Kerala uses this title and remains an exception. The title for the equivalent officer in the Eastern churches is syncellus and protosyncellus.

In 1892, seeking unity amongst the different Trappist observances, the Trappist congregations left the Cistercian Order entirely and merged to form a new order with the approval of Pope Leo XIII named the 'Order of Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe', formalising their identity and spirituality as a separate monastic community. [6]

Pope Leo XIII 256th Pope of the Catholic Church

Pope Leo XIII was head of the Catholic Church from 20 February 1878 to his death. He was the oldest pope, and had the third-longest confirmed pontificate, behind that of Pius IX and John Paul II.

In 1909, the Trappists of Mariannhill were separated from the rest of the Trappist Order by decree of the Holy See to form the Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries. [7]

One of the most notable Trappist theologians was Thomas Merton, a prominent author in the mystic tradition and a noted poet and social and literary critic. He entered the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1941 where his writings and letters to world leaders became some of the most widely read spiritual and social works of the 20th century. Merton's widely-read works include his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain , as well as New Seeds of Contemplation and No Man is an Island.

The first Trappist saint was Saint Rafael Arnáiz Barón, who was a conventual oblate of the Abbey of San Isidro de Dueñas in Dueñas, Palencia. His defining characteristic was his intense devotion to a religious life and personal piety despite the setbacks of his affliction with diabetes mellitus. He died in 1938 aged 27 from complications of diabetes, and was beatified in 1992 by Pope John Paul II and canonised in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Monastic life

Monks of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in the early 20th century Trappists, Kentucky Library of Congress Pictures.jpg
Monks of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in the early 20th century

Trappists, like the Benedictines and Cistercians from whom they originate, follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. "Strict Observance" refers to the Trappists' goal of following the Rule closely. They take the three vows described in the Rule (c. 58): stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.

Trappist monks in Pertapaan Rawaseneng, Indonesia, praying Terce Terce at the Church of the Hermitage of Saint Mary Rawaseneng 2.JPG
Trappist monks in Pertapaan Rawaseneng, Indonesia, praying Terce

Saint Benedict's precept to minimise conversation means that Trappists generally speak only when necessary; thus idle talk is strongly discouraged. However, contrary to popular belief, they do not take a vow of silence. [8] According to Saint Benedict, speech disturbs a disciple's quietude and receptivity, and may tempt one to exercise one's own will instead of the will of God. Speech that leads to unkind amusement or laughter is considered evil and is forbidden. [9] A Trappist sign language, one of several monastic sign languages, was developed to render speaking unnecessary. Meals are usually taken in contemplative silence as Trappists listen to a reading. [10]

Unlike the Benedictines and Cistercians, [11] [12] Trappists fully abstain from meat as regards "four-footed animals". [13] They generally live as vegetarians, with their diet mostly consisting of vegetables, beans, and grain products, but they may sometimes eat fish. [13] [14] [13]

A Trappist novice reading at his desk Mariawald zelle lectio 2007-08-20 bmd.jpg
A Trappist novice reading at his desk
A Trappist novice kneeling at the cross Trappist praying 2007-08-20 dti.jpg
A Trappist novice kneeling at the cross

Though each monastery is autonomous and may have different rules, generally the stages to enter the Trappist life can be described as follows: [15]

Goods and services produced

The 48th chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict states "for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands". [16] Following this rule, most Trappist monasteries produce goods that are sold to provide income for the monastery.

The goods produced range from cheeses, bread and other foodstuffs to clothing and coffins, though they are most famous [17] for Trappist beers, which are unique within the beer world, [18] and are lauded for their high quality and flavour. [19] Monasteries in Belgium and the Netherlands, such as La Trappe, Orval Abbey and Westvleteren Abbey, brew beer both for the monks themselves and for sale to the general public. Trappist beers contain residual sugars and living yeast, and, unlike conventional beers, will improve with age. [20] Westvleteren 12 is often considered to be the single best beer in the world. [21]

The Trappist monks of the Tre Fontane Abbey raise the lambs whose wool is used to make the pallia of new metropolitan archbishops. The pope blesses the pallia on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul; the metropolitan archbishops receive those pallia in a separate ceremony within their home dioceses from the hands of the Apostolic Nuncio, who personally represents the pope in their respective countries.

The monks of New Melleray Abbey in rural Peosta, Iowa produce caskets for both themselves and sale to the public.

St. Joseph's Abbey in the town of Spencer, Massachusetts produces the first Trappist beer of the United States. It is named the Spencer Brewery in the Trappist tradition for the town in which it operates.

Cistercian College, Roscrea, a boys' boarding secondary/high school in Ireland, is the only Trappist school left in the world, and one of only two remaining monastic secondary schools in Ireland.


Latroun Abbey, Latroun, Israel Latrun-Monastery.jpg
Latroun Abbey, Latroun, Israel

Cistercian monasteries have continued to spread, with many founded outside Europe in the 20th century. In particular, the number of Trappist monasteries throughout the world has more than doubled over the past 60 years: from 82 in 1940 to 127 in 1970, and 169 at the beginning of the 21st century. [22] In 1940, there were six Trappist monasteries in Asia and the Pacific, only one Trappist monastery in Africa, and none in Latin America. [22] Now there are 13 in Central and South America, 17 in Africa, and 23 in Asia and the Pacific. [22] In general, these communities are growing faster than those in other parts of the world. [22]

Over the same period, the total number of monks and nuns in the Order decreased by about 15%. [22] There are on average 25 members per community – less than half those in former times. [22] As of 1 January 2018, there were 1,796 Trappist monks [23] and 1,592 Trappistine nuns [24] across the world.

Abbots General

Sebastien Wyart, 1st Abbot General of the Trappists between 1892 and 1904 Dom Sebastien Wyart.jpg
Sébastien Wyart, 1st Abbot General of the Trappists between 1892 and 1904

The Abbot General and his Council reside in Rome and are generally in charge of the Order's affairs. [25] The present Abbot General is Dom Eamon Fitzgerald of Mount Melleray Abbey in Waterford, Ireland. [25] Every three years, the abbots and abbesses of each branch meet at the Mixed General Meeting, chaired by the Abbot General, to make decisions concerning the welfare of the Order. [25]

  1. 1892–1904: Sébastien Wyart
  2. 1904–1922: Augustin Marre
  3. 1922–1929: Jean-Baptiste Ollitraut de Keryvallan
  4. 1929–1943: Herman-Joseph Smets
  5. 1943–1951: Dominique Nogues
  6. 1951–1963: Gabriel Sortais
  7. 1964–1974: Ignace Gillet
  8. 1974–1990: Ambroise Southey
  9. 1990–2008: Bernardo-Luis-José Oliveira
  10. 2008–current: Eamon Fitzgerald

List of Trappist monasteries

As of 2018, there were 168 Trappist monasteries and convents. [26]

Latin America
North America

See also

Related Research Articles

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Mariawald Abbey abbey

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Soligny-la-Trappe Commune in Normandy, France

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Tre Fontane Abbey church building in Rome, Italy

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Caldey Abbey Church in Pembrokeshire, Wales

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Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé Founder of the Trappist Order

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