History of the Monastery

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529 A.D.

St. Benedict of Nursia founded a monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy, where he wrote his Rule.


The Abbey of Cîteaux was founded near Dijon, France. These monks, known as Cistercians, were dedicated to an integral observance of the Rule of St. Benedict. This Cistercian experiment, forming the Cistercian Order, was so successful that hundreds of new monasteries were founded.


The Cistercian abbey of La Trappe in Normandy joined in a general movement for monastic reform. The success of their venture lead to the widespread adoption of their customs. Monks of this heritage later became popularly known as “Trappists.”


In the aftermath of the French Revolution, a group of monks were sent from Europe to America in the hope of establishing a Trappist monastery. Its leader, Vincent de Paul Merle, eventually succeeded in founding a small monastery in Nova Scotia.

After struggling for many years, the monks appealed to the community of Sint Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium, to send reinforcements. Eleven Flemish monks made the journey, and the monastery of Petit Clairvaux began to prosper, and brewed beer for their own table.

After devastating fires in 1892 and 1895, the small community, accompanied by their livestock, moved to Cumberland, Rhode Island.

On March 21, 1950, the Feast of Saint Benedict, the monastery was again ravaged by fire. The community, then numbering 140 persons, was homeless and had to move to a property they had recently acquired in Spencer, MA.

Shortly after moving to Spencer, one of the monks made a small batch of mint jelly with mint from the herb garden, which was sold in the Porter’s Lodge. It proved to be so popular that it led to the creation of Trappist Preserves, which today consists of 30 preserves, jams and jellies.

On December 10th, 2013 the abbey is certified by the International Trappist Association to become the first Trappist brewery in the United States.

To learn more about Saint Joseph's Abbey, visit our monastery website.