ROLDUC ABBEY’S HISTORY THROUGH THE AGES
In the year 1104, a young priest, Ailbertus from Antoing, appeared in the Land of Rode, accompanied by two friars. They wanted to lead a simple life within absolute poverty. Adelbert, Count of Saffenberg on the Ahr and owner of the castle in ‘s Hertogenrade, offered them a strip of land on which they built themselves a simple home and a wooden chapel. During the next 900 years, this wooden chapel became the largest abbey complex of the Benelux and one of the Dutch UNESCO Top 100 monuments.
The wealthy Embrico from Mayschoss on the Ahr and his family joined Ailbertus and donated his entire property to the small community. In 1106, they started to build the crypt and laid the foundations of the future monastic church. In 1108, the crypt was completed. Ailbertus left the monastery in 1111, after a difference of opinion with Embrico. He died in Sechtem near Bonn (Germany) in 1122. In 1895, the bones, believed to be those of Ailbertus, were transferred to Rolduc abbey and placed in a sarcophagus in the crypt he himself and Embrico built.
Dukes of Limburg
Richer from Rottenbuch in Bavaria became the first abbot of the monastery in Rode. The community became a monastery for Augustinian canons who initially lived according to very strict rules, focusing on community life, prayer, refraining from private property, on fasting rigidly and on manual work. At first, the abbey was called “Kloosterrade”. Ever since the 18th century it has been called by the “frenchified” name of ‘s Hertogenrade (Rode-le-Duc = Rolduc). In 1136, after the abbey was placed under guardianship of the Dukes of Limburg, “Kloosterrade” was considered to be their family monastery. Some of them where buried there, such as Walram III. His grave is located in the central aisle of the abbey church.
A time of growth
In the mid-12th century, the abbey flourished. In 1250, the abbey possessed some 3000 hectares of land and the number of its members increased steadily. The library developed into one of the most important libraries of that time. The abbey sent its canons to various places in present-day Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to serve there as parish-priests. Some new monasteries were founded by Kloosterrade: Mariënthal in the Ahr-valley, Sinnich near Aubel in Belgium, Hooidonk near Eindhoven and Scharn near Maastricht. About five monasteries in Friesland were placed under the authority of Kloosterrade, of which the abbey of “ludingakerke” was the most important.
In the 14th, 15th and 16th century, the abbey went through a long period of decline, both in spiritual and material matters. During the ‘Eighty Years War’, a large part of the buildings was damaged. It wasn’t until 1677 that the abbots Van der Steghe and Bock succeeded in carrying through stricter rules within the monastery life, despite heavy protests by most of the abbey inhabitants. Materialistically, the abbey started to prosper once more, mainly thanks to the revenues from the exploitation of coal from the coal mines. Kloosterrade employed almost 400 mineworkers. In 1796, the abbey was dissolved by the French and the canons were forced to leave Rolduc.
Boarding school and Seminary
For 35 years the buildings remained empty. In 1831, Rolduc Abbey was recommissioned by the Diocese of Liège for use as a seminary, a college training teenage boys for priesthood. After Belgium’s independence, this seminary moved to St. Truiden in Belgium and Rolduc Abbey was taken over by the Diocese of Roermond. Rolduc became a boarding school and grammar school (Gymnasium) for boys from Dutch wealthy families, among them several well-known politicians, scientists and writers of that time. From 1946 until 1967, Rolduc was once more a minor seminary, only now for the Diocese of Roermond. The boarding school closed in 1971; the Gymnasium closed in 2011.
During the seventies of the 20th century the complex has been restored thoroughly. Now, the over 900 year old complex of Rolduc Abbey is used in a multifunctional way and consist of:
- A hotel, restaurant and conference centre
- Private houses and apartments
- Office spaces and practices
- Several educational institutions
Preservation and future
Rolduc Abbey is one of the most important religious monuments in the “Limburg” region and one of the Top 100 UNESCO monuments in The Netherlands. Rolduc’s main task is to preserve and maintain the monumental complex for the benefit of the inhabitants and of the community in general.
In order to preserve the cultural en spiritual heritage, Rolduc works closely together with several organisations en foundations, like for example the “Lève Rolduc” foundation, a gathering of former Rolduc students. In 1992, Rolduc received the “Europa Nostra Award”. This award is assigned to restorations that contribute to the preservation of European Cultural Heritage.
Historical guided tour