The ancient abbey
The foundation of the ancient abbey of St. Andrew is linked up with the epos of the crusades, more precisely of the first crusade. Count Robert II of Flanders, a pious and brave man, responded to an appeal by pope Urban II and departed overseas with Gottfried of Bouillon, the duke of Lothringen. In 1098 the crusaders were before Antioch and took possession of the town by surprise. Hardly installed, they were in their turn surprised and besieged by the forces of emir Kerboga and the Turkish Seldjoucides. The siege was long and despair took possession of all. Only a miracle could restore their courage. The miracle happened. One day, a Provençal countryman informed the chiefs of the army that he had seen several times in a dream St Andrew revealing him the place where was the lance who transfixed the side of Christ. The chiefs went to the indicated place and found the rusty iron lance. At the announce of the miracle the besieged recovered courage and, with Robert of Flanders at the head, charged the enemy. Under the protection of the Holy Lance, the Turkish forces were dispersed, the town saved, the way to Jerusalem opened.
During that siege Robert II made a promise. If he would survive, he would found on his grounds a monastery near a church dedicated to St Andrew.
The foundation charter, signed on February 22, 1100 by the bishop of Noyon-Tournai, even seems to insinuate that St Andrew appeared to the count himself. The first monks arrived on August 17, 1117. In 1188, the abbey became independent of its mother abbey of Affligem and a period of prosperity began. It lasted until the fourteenth century. In 1240, after a long dispute between the abbot and the local parish priest, a wall was built in the church to divide it into two.
Later the ancient abbey knew periods of prosperity and of decadence. At a moment of deep decadence and after a canonical visitation it was incorporated in the reform of Bursfeld, a Benedictine reform coming from Germany.
The abbey was severely damaged by the Calvinists during the sixteenth century and most of the monks had to flee. The wars of the seventeenth century, if the armies were Spanish, Austrian or French, had fatal repercussions on the monks. The location of the abbey outside the walls of Bruges exposed it to further damages.
The abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and finally destroyed. Its properties were sold. The last monk died at Bruges in 1847.
In 1899-1900, Dom Gérard van Caloen, a monk of Maredsous, undertook the building of the actual abbey. The purpose was to send monks to Brazil in order to revive the dying Benedictine life in this country. Governments of freemason tendency, in Portugal as well as in the new Empire, were responsible for the bad situation of the communities. Confronted with an absence of new candidates, the high age of the remaining monks, a complete absence of leadership and a state of isolation, the Brazilian abbeys were condemned to disappear. The coup d’état of 1889 made an end of the empire and the disestablishment of 1890 gave new oxygen to the religious orders. The last Brazilian Benedictines made an appeal to pope Leo XIII in order to save their Congregation. Gerard van Caloen, an enterprising man, was charged with the mission. Chronologically he became abbot of Olinda, abbot of Rio de Janeiro and archabbot of the Brazilian Congregation. In 1906 the mission territory of the Rio Branco was assigned to him; he was appointed “ordinarius” with the title of bishop of Phocea. From 1895 to 1914, 280 European monks and oblates departed for Brazil. At the arrival of Dom Gérard van Caloen in Brazil 1895, the Congregation counted no more than eleven monks. At his departure they were 261.
During the leadership of Dom Théodore Nève between 1912 and 1963 the Abbey developed many faceted activities. He opened the gates of the Abbey to the world and sent out his monks to Congo (Katanga), China (now Valyermo in California), Poland (Tyniec) and India (Asirvanam). All the monastic foundations of St Andrew are now independent and part of the Congregation of the Annunciation. The Abbey school, founded in 1910, is actually a secondary boarding school with 300 pupils. During this period the liturgical influence was vast, especially by the publication of a missal in different languages. A few periodicals were begun: a mission newsletter, a liturgical magazine and also a review concerning church art.
In 1967 the abbey adopted the Dutch language and founded the Monastery Saint-Andrew of Clerlande. Since the insertion in the region and the church of Flanders has been one of the main purposes of the community.