Norbertines of Mondaye beginning a new community on the French-Spanish border! God bless you, Brothers!
Pyrenees: after 200 years of absence, monks return to Sarrance!
Four canons of the Abbey of Mondaye are installed this Sunday, September 4 by Bishop Marc Aillet, Bishop of Bayonne, Lescar and Oloron, in Notre-Dame de Sarrance, in the Pyrenees. A new breath for this monastery of Premonstratensian tradition since the fourteenth century.
It is an almost obligatory passage between Lourdes and Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, Pau and Spain. At three hundred meters above sea level, surrounded by Pyrenean peaks, Sarrance is the narrowest place in the valley, irrigated by the Gave d’Aspe. In the center of the village is the abbey dedicated to Notre-Dame. On a human scale, with its parquet floors and its two-storey cloister with wooden balustrades, “it feels like the inn of the three musketeers”, exclaimed the brothers while visiting the abbey for the first time.
“The Virgin Mary chose this place,” says Brother Paul-Emmanuel, future prior of the community. In this place of pilgrimage since the twelfth century, the oldest of the Atlantic Pyrenees, then recognized as such by Pope Innocent II in 1140, the Blessed Virgin watches over pilgrims and people who come to rest with her. “Under your mercy we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Welcome our prayers when we cry out to you,” they implore every night, kneeling near the niche behind the altar.
At the request of the Bishop of Bayonne, Mgr Marc Aillet, the brothers were responsible for revitalizing the pilgrimage. The reception of pilgrims is a tradition for the canons of the Premonstratensian Order. As at the Abbey of Sainte Foy de Conques – where the Jacquaires of via Podiensis have stopped for thirty years – the pilgrims of Compostela stop in Sarrance. This last step before the border allows those who want to avoid the busy path of Le Puy, to take the Via Tolosana, coming from Arles. Through their prayer open to all – liturgy of the hours and Eucharist – the brothers and sisters ensure a spiritual presence. Accompaniment and blessing before leaving on the path are also offered. The seventeenth-century hotel, listed as a historical monument, can accommodate thirty people but requires major restoration work.
The abbey of Sarrance does not only welcome the Jacquaires. Brother Dominique-Marie, future rector of the sanctuary, wishes, with the brothers, to make it a spiritual pole for the Valley of Aspe: individual and conjugal retreats preached by the brothers, place of listening, welcome for the sacrament of reconciliation… Ideas abound for priests excited by this beautiful adventure. “Something beautiful is offered to us to live and we want to adhere to it seriously,” says Brother Paul-Emmanuel. “We see it as a sign from Heaven: God is always there and we are responding to His call.”
In fact, the presence of the Premonstratensians at the abbey of Sarrance is part of the continuity. Driven out during the Revolution, they returned in 2011, in the person of Brother Pierre, succeeding the fathers of Betharram. The latter, ordained priest for the diocese of Bayonne for fifty-six years, was nevertheless called to “a life of prayer in community and in the middle of the world”. Novice at the abbey of Mondaye, he comes since to drink there six to seven times a year. Brother Pierre acknowledges having been the instrument of the registry of the Premonstratensian order in the Pyrenees. “The Premonstratensian sap taken at Mondaye Abbey took in me,” says the octogenarian priest. His prayer, associated with that of the parishioners and hospitallers, to be joined by other Premonstratensians was finally answered. “It is a pleasure to pass on my shepherd’s staff to younger brothers,” he rejoices.
In this arid place, we discover Sarrance at the turn of a road, as a welcome gift from the Virgin Mary.
Through the creation of the Association Saint Norbert in Aspe, Brother Peter was able to buy the monastery – except the church, property of the municipality – and welcome pilgrims and people wishing to regain a foothold in their difficulties. Surrounded by priests who were retired or resting, he assumed the office of parish priest of the canton of Accous, a position that will henceforth be assumed by brothers Renaud and Julien. The first will be the parish priest. Seasoned, he was for fifty villages in Normandy, around the abbey of Mondaye. “It was time to change missions,” he says. “We are going to be like pioneers, where the Premonstratensian presence has been inscribed for centuries, despite interruptions.” The parish is dedicated to Saint Norbert, founder of the Order. His statue appears in front of the gilded choir of the baroque church, as well as that of St. Augustine, whose Rule the Premonstratensians follow. Brother Julien, the youngest of the four brothers, will be the vicar. Struck by the rain that fell on the Béarn during the visits necessary for discernment, he saw in the smile of the inhabitants and parishioners of Sarrance “an inner light”. Their welcome is indeed very warm and enthusiastic.
“In this arid place, we discover Sarrance at the turn of a road, as a welcome gift from the Virgin Mary and we come to draw, from the beautiful fountain with basin of the village, a human and spiritual refreshment,” promises Brother Renaud. Our Lady of Sarrance welcomes unconditionally.
Courtesy of Fr. Johan Goossens, O. Praem. and Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.