The Cistercian order is an arm of the Catholic Church that strictly follows a way of life taught by Saint Benedict of Nursia. This lifestyle is known as the ‘Rule of St Benedict’. A particularly influential branch of this Cistercian order came from La Trappe Abbey in Normandy, in 17th century France, and thus ‘Trappist’ monks became known.
A defining tenet of the Rule of St. Benedict is ‘ora et labora’, or, ‘prayer and work’. Saint Benedict declared that monks and nuns should dedicate their lives to prayer and manual labor. Trappist monks must work with their hands to create something beneficial to the community. For this reason, monasteries are typically found in the countryside, surrounded by fields of crops and livestock, like any other agricultural producer.
They create artisan goods such as clothes; wool; cheese, bread, and other produce; and of course, Trappist beer. Selling these to townsfolk became an easy way for the monks to fund the monastery and contribute to their communities. They take zero profits for personal gain.
In France, the tradition of Trappist beer continued until the French Revolution, upon which monasteries were sacked, looted, and subsequently abandoned. Trappists then settled in Belgium and over time, resumed beer production. Their tenacity, focus and commitment seeped into Belgian brewing culture, which possibly contributed to the country’s bustling beer culture, a phenomenon now listed on UNESCOs ‘intangible cultural heritage’ register.