New Melleray Abbey
A Short History of Its Foundation
by Brother Kieran Mullany
A short history of its foundation, when, and by whom this branch Monastery of the Cistercian Order was established, giving the names of its first members, those of the several Superiors who governed the community during a period of thirty eight years, namely from 1849 to 1887. With many other particulars of interest well worthy of being recorded by a more competent chronicler.
In three parts, each embracing a period of ten years, leaving the eight remaining years as an Appendix.
As it is usual to begin all books with a preface or introduction that rule shall hold good in the present case, as everything relating to the venerable Cistercian Order well deserves such eulogy, no matter how simple the narrative or insignificant the writer.
Our Monastery is not the first of this Order in the United States of America, one was begun by the Venerable Abbot of La Trappe Dom Augustine in the State of Missouri as far back as 1814, when that holy Abbot was driven by the French in the reign of terror (1791) from his Monastery and his Abbey leveled to the ground, he with his little community of thirty members sought refuge in America. The island of Martinique in the West Indies was their destination but not liking the place, came to the United States, where they remained only two years. Peace being restored after the fall of Bonaparte, the good Abbot and his Brothers returned to La Trappe.
The second Monastery of our Order was begun by Belgian Trappists in Nova Scotia about the year 1836 and is known now by the name Petit Clairvaux.
The third in the order of time is Gethsemani Abbey, Nelson County, Kentucky. This Abbey is a filiation of Melleray Abbey in France and was established in 1848.
Next and fourth, in time comes New Melleray—and here the derivation of the word “Melleray” has to be given. It occurred thus—in the year 1145, two Brothers were sent from the Cistercian Abbey of Ponteron near Angers, France in search of a proper place to erect a new Monastery. Having come to the village of Moisne in Brittany and having been unkindly received both by the Pastor and the people, they found shelter in the trunk of a tree with plenty of “honey-comb” which in French means Melleray. Melleray Abbey is today where that tree was seven hundred and forty two years ago.
Citeaux—the venerable parent of the Cistercian Order was commenced on Saint Benedict’s day, on March 21st, 1098. It had saints to establish it—namely, Saint Robert was its first Abbot, Saint Alberic Prior, and Saint Stephen SubPrior. No wonder its Monasteries and Convents so multiplied that in the year 1220, there were in Europe no less than ten thousand Cistercian Houses, four thousand Abbeys and six thousand Convents. In one of these Convents (that of Frebizon in Poland), thirty Princesses of that Kingdom were professed Nuns. The four first filiations of Citeaux were La Ferte, Pontigny, Clairvaux and Morimond. These in turn sent out other colonies, so that in the first fifty years of her existence, Citeaux saw no less than five hundred Abbeys as her offspring.
And Ireland—our own Island of Saints—had its share of Cistercian Abbeys. There were over forty (seventy) Monasteries of the Order there at the dissolution by Henry the 8th in 1536. The first of them was Mellifont in County Louth, established by Saint Malachy Archbishop of Armagh. Saint Bernard gave him monks from his Abbey of Clairvaux in the year 1147 to begin the Order. These soon spread over the whole island. Holy Cross Abbey in Tipperary became the mother house and residence of the Vicar General of Cistercians there. Its last Vicar General and Abbot was the Rt. Rev. Michael O’Dwyer. As he refused to obey Henry the 8th (in his spiritual supremacy), he with his community were banished out of Ireland, and Holy Cross Abbey was leveled in ruins.
Among other remarkable Abbeys of our Order whose ruins attest their grandeur may be mentioned Dunbrody Abbey in Wexford, Jerpoint in Kilkinny, Odourney Abbey near Ardfertte, better known by its Cistercian name of “Kyrie Eleison.”
And now at the close of this nineteenth century, having so noble a lineage may not New Melleray Abbey in Iowa become as one of her ancestors.