Cambron Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey, today site is now used as a zoo. Twelve monks from Clairvaux arrived at Cambron on August 1, 1148. They were sent by St. Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux. Shortly after its foundation, the abbey grew substantially. It became one of the wealthiest monasteries of Hainault and variously founded, or was given the supervision of, several daughter houses.

By the end of the 14th century, there were more than 70 monks at Cambron. The monks increasingly recruited the aid of lay-brothers to tend the fields. The contribution of agricultural techniques to the local peasantry substantially improved both the status of the rural class and the local economy. After facing difficulties in the 15th century, the abbey contributed greatly in the 16th century to the renaissance in the arts and in theology.

By the 17th century, the abbey had become rich from years of gifts, legacies, and productive agriculture. The abbey enjoyed great renown, but strict adherence to monastic life had begun to loosen. At the end of the 17th century, the wars of King Louis XIV devastated the province of Hainaut and set off the abbey's first period of decline.

At the beginning of the 18th century, a period of peace allowed for new prosperity, and a spate of construction and renovation. The majority of structures still visible at the site today date from this period. The entrance gate of the abbey was given a statuary niche that held an image of the Virgin Mary. The abbey's tower, built under the direction of the architect Jean-Fran├žois Wincqz, was constructed in a pure Neoclassical style. The carriage house, with five stalls and a dovecote in the center, is unique. The monumental staircase evokes the garden of a palace more than a monastery.

The abbey was still prosperous in 1782, at which time it had 58 monks. But in 1783, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II ordered Cambron to be dissolved. The decision took effect in 1789 and the monks were expelled from the abbey and went into exile in the Netherlands. The subsequent French occupation would put an end to nine centuries of Cistercian life. Expelled by the Revolutionary government, the monks left the abbey in 1797. The abbey's assets were sold and the buildings torn down by the succeeding owners.

Of the abbey buildings there still remain the tower of the abbey church of 1774, a monumental staircase of 1776, the entire medieval precinct wall and a 13th-century cellar that was formerly beneath the now-vanished lay brothers' quarters, measuring 12 metres by 18 metres with twelve pointed vaults, the main abbey gateway of 1722 and the former abbey farm with an 18th-century coach house. Remains of the former abbey church are kept in Attre Castle.

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Founded: 1148
Category: Religious sites in Belgium

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