Averbode Abbey was founded about 1134–1135 by Arnold II, Count of Loon. The abbey started rather small but grew over the centuries, until it was some 5500 ha in the 17th century, including farms, fields, woodland, mills, heath, and local chapels. The abbey also provided the priests for 27 parishes. The first abbey church was inaugurated in 1194, and soon after the nuns, who until then resided in Averbode as well, moved to Keizerbos, where it stayed until it disappeared in 1796.
New buildings were erected all the time at the abbey. The gatehouse, built at the end of the 14th century, is the oldest remaining building. The church and part of the abbey was destroyed by a fire after a lightning strike on October 25, 1499.
The abbey went through a prosperous period in the first half of the 16th century, under Abbot Gerard vander Schaeft. The church was rebuilt and richly decorated. Unrest and plundering troops made it necessary to flee the abbey four times in this period. Political and religious instability in the latter half of the century, with the Beeldenstorm, made the canons flee the abbey again in 1578 to the refuge of Diest. The death of 12 monks in 1579 because of the bubonic plague reduced the abbey to only 28 monks in 1584. They returned to Averbode only in 1604.
The 17th century saw a return to strength of the abbey, with 80 monks by 1670. Between 1664 and 1672, a new church was built. Almost all the buildings were rebuilt during this century. At the end of the 18th century, in 1789, the Brabantse Omwenteling started a period of great political turmoil, with the French and the Austrians fighting for control over Brabant. Travelling troops heavily damaged the abbey. After the French disbanded most abbeys on September 1, 1796, the canons of Averbode were evicted on February 14, 1797. Most parts of the library and the archive were brought to safety beforehand, and the abbot and some canons fled across the Rhine. In 1802, brother Ignatius Carleer bought the abbey and some monks were able to return. The church was used as parochial church for Averbode. Because of financial problems, most of the church treasure had to be sold. Meanwhile, the library and archive were seized by the government and transferred to the University of Liège and the Royal Archives of Belgium in Brussels.
The abbey was reestablished in 1834, with the 12 surviving monks of 1796. In 1877, the abbey founded a 'Brotherhood of Our Mother of the Holy Heart', linked with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Issoudun. This brotherhood would give a new élan to the abbey and define its status and works until today. In 1881, a first press was bought to print the magazines and leaflets for the Brotherhood. In the years before World War I, the abbey prospered and grew through the Brotherhood and the printing activities, with some of its magazines printed in more than 100,000 copies. The abbey was at the time a motor of the village life, with also a school, a harmony, a library and a thespian society. It was the center of Marian-centred pilgrimages, which attracted many visitors and benefited the local shops and bars.
The central buildings of the abbey, apart from the church, burned down almost to the ground on December 29, 1942. In 1945, a school in Brasschaat which was run by the abbey was hit by a V-1 flying bomb, killing a canon and three priests. The abbey reached its greatest population in 1959 with 242 people, 88 of which resided in the abbey. The others were divided over the missions, schools, dependencies and parishes maintained or serviced by Averbode.
The general decline of Roman Catholicism in Western Europe and especially in Flanders started to affect the abbey of Averbode as well though. The work on the new abbey in Brazil was stopped and the college of Jaú was closed down. The schools in Brasschaat and Schoten saw the canons leave as well, but they continued to exist. The publishing activities also were more and more led by laymen, and the printing activities were sold in 1996.References: