The Trappist Abbey of Achel or Saint Benedictus-Abbey is famous for its spiritual life and its brewery, which is one of few Trappist beer breweries in the world. Life in the abbey is characterised by prayer, reading and manual work, the three basic elements of Trappist life.
In 1648, at the end of the Eighty Years War, the Treaty of Münster was signed between Spain and the Netherlands. The result of the treaty was that the Catholic mass was not allowed in the Dutch Republic. Therefore, Catholics from Valkenswaard and Schaft built a chapel in Achel which was part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège. The early roots of the Abbey date back to 1686, when Petrus van Eynatten, a son of the mayor of Eindhoven, founded a community of hermits of Saint Joseph. The community would flourish until 1789 when they were expelled from their convent after the French revolutionary army invaded the Austrian Netherlands. The abbey was sold to Jan Diederik van Tuyll van Serooskerken.
On 21 March 1846 the Trappists from Westmalle Abbey founded a priory in Achel (first founded in Meersel-Dreef on 3 May 1838 in a former monastery of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin). The abbey and its 95 hectares of land had been bought by the priest Gast from Heeze on 9 April 1845 with the support of several beneficiaries. The first beer to be brewed on the site was the 'Patersvaatje' in 1852. In 1871, the priory was granted the status of abbey and beer brewing became a regular activity. By reclaiming wasteland, the agriculture and cattle-breeding of the abbey prospered. In addition several daughter-houses were founded in Echt, Diepenveen, Rochefort and the abbey of Notre Dame de l'Emmanuel in Kasanza in 1958 (Belgian Congo).
At the beginning of World War I (1914) the monks left the abbey. The Germans dismantled the brewery in 1917 to salvage the approximately 700 kg of copper. After World War II a new abbey was built between 1946 and 1952, but only two wings of the planned four were completed. In 1989 the abbey sold most of its land to the Dutch National Forest Administration and the Flemish Government. In 1998 with the support from the trappists from Westmalle and Rochefort brewing started again.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.