Our History

Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen, the founders of Cîteaux. Sculpture in Val Notre-Dame Abbey.

The important milestones of our history Monastic life as lived at Val Notre-Dame Abbey in Saint-Jean-de-Matha since March 2009 find its origins in the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the 6th century by Benedict of Nursia, the father of Western monasticism. Long applied in Europe’s monasteries along with other monastic rules, this Little Rule for Beginners, as its author describes it, became the only one in effect in all monasteries as of the 9th century. The monastic movement reached its peak in Cluny, France, where an important Benedictine monastery was founded during the 10th century. In 1098, 21 monks from the Benedictine monastery of Molesmes seeking to live in greater solitude and more closely by the Rule, withdrew to the wild region of Cîteaux. This is where the Cistercian Order was founded by Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen, who were joined later on by the most popular, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. During the 17th century, following the ebb and flow of history, the Cistercian Order considerably detached itself from strict observance of the Rule of St. Benedict. It was during this time that appeared another great monastic figure, Armand Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé, or l’Abbé tempête as he was called (for the radical changes he brought about), who reformed La Trappe Abbey in France. The Trappists were born of this reform. In 1881, faced with threats of being expelled by an anti-religious government, the Trappist monks of the Bellefontaine monastery, still active in France, came to Oka, in Canada, to found La Trappe d’Oka, which flourished in the 1950s with a total of 177 monks. The monastery will become famous for its cheese: the Oka cheese. In 2002, there were only some 30 monks left in the community. Since the premises had become too big and the surrounding area too noisy, the monks decided to move to the Lanaudière region and establish themselves in Val Notre-Dame, at the foot of the Coupée mountain. In this enchanting site and in a bright monastery of sober and modern design, they continue to search for God, still guided by the Rule of St. Benedict.