Visiting the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Maurice and Saint-Maur, Clervaux, Luxmbourg: imposing, with an octagonal tower
At an interesting geographical location
Near the northern town of Clervaux (Létzebuergesch: Klierf; German: Clerf) in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, is the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maurice and St. Maur.
Two salient, physical features mark this structure, one being its conspicuous, octagonal tower. The other is its hilltop location, albeit largely surrounded by trees, so that from the town, below, the main body of the Abbey building is hidden, while the octagonal tower is a landmark over several kilometres, for which the Abbey at Cluny was a model. (I have supplied a photo — above — which shows the town surrounded by wooded hills, at the crest of of one of which the tower of the Abbey is visible.)
The Abbey Church has a striking rose window. Its interior has several paintings by Nic Bruecher. The life of the Abbey Church is characterized by its pursuit of the Gregorian chant; in addition to centres such as the parish church at Watou, in neighbouring Belgium, and elsewhere, the Abbey Church's musical tradition has achieved distinction in this genre.
The Abbey dates from 1909, and owes its existence to an influx of French monks, whose presence on French soil was hindered by secularist laws. The building is executed in Neo-Romanesque style. Its architect was Franciskus Klomp (1865-1946) (1). The founder of the Abbey was Dom Paul Renaudin (1864-1947)(2). One the Abbey's significant supporters at its inception was Clervaux mayor Emile Prüm (1857-1928)(3).
The Abbey traditionally has links with Scandinavia. The Icelandic Nobel Literature Prizewinner Halldór Laxness (1902-1998) spent a time of reflection there (4).
The site of the Abbey expresses a profoundly significant situation. Northern Luxembourg's terrain combines undulating farmland punctured by unexpected ravines and valleys, and it is in one such valley that the town of Clervaux is built, seemingly overlooked by a hill, where the Abbey stands, increasingly surrounded by mature vegetation. Once one climbs a winding path to the top of the hill, however, one faces the prospect of undulating agricultural land where for generations now monks have laboured. Many years ago I confess to have been invigorated or troubled — which exactly I cannot say — by the juxtaposition of these various elements in and around the Abbey. Even purely in terms of the psychology of the landscape, things are not what they at first seem. The life of the Abbey monks, centred on contemplation, privacy and labour, thus draws its physical context from the syncopated cadences of Northern Luxembourg's landscape in professed expression of the craving for equilibrium which the Abbey's founder Dom Paul Renaudin found in the writings of Dominic.
Nearby is a monument, which predates the Abbey, to the so called Kleppelkrich (Peasants' War) of 1798, which saw a popular rising against the anti-clerical French Revolutionaries who were occupying Luxembourg at the time. Interestingly, this monument also dates from the period of Clervaux Mayor Emile Prüm's term of office. There is thus a sense in which the history of Luxembourg and the history of reaction to secularist measures in France, which form the background to the Abbey's founding, come together here.
January 26, 2015
(1) Architect Klomp was also responsible for the Parish Church in Clervaux. See also (in French): http://abbaye-clervaux.lu/upload/pdf/Construction-egl-fr-bon.pdf
(2) Dom Paul Renaudin was notably interested in what became the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary; and in Egyptian church tradition. He also professed a strong interest in relations with Protestant 'separeted brethren' at a period when these were followed less vigorously than today; significantly, he saw the cult of Mary as a means to this end rather than an aspect of Roman Catholic tradition to be de-emphasized during contacts with Protestants.
(3) Mayor Emile Prüm also served in Luxembourg's Chamber of Deputies from 1892-1913. Biographical note: his son Pierre Prüm (1886-1950) served as Luxembourg's Prime Minister 1925-1926.
(4) Interestingly, this linkage with Scandinavia is of many decades' standing, and when visiting the Abbey I saw displayed an old map of Scandinavia, its age given away by the fact that the the pre-1940 border between Finland and the Soviet Union was shown.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
In Clervaux itself, there is more, fine ecclesiastical architecture, a striking castle, with a museum, and memories of the Battle of the Bulge.
The photogenic and historic Luxembourg City (distance: 64 km) has many architectural visitor attractions.
Bastogne , Belgium (distance: 27 km), is visited by many Americans on account of its Battle of the Bulge associations .
How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). The Luxembourg railroad company CFL maintains a regular service to Clervaux from Luxembourg City. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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