Raam 3 Bekering GL PO 06 2b INT 5031 cor

Divine lightning. 900 years of the Norbertines

4 May 2021 - 29 August 2021

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In 2021 the Park Abbey fathers celebrate the 900th anniversary of their order: the Norbertines. The highlight of the planned celebrations is a major international exhibition about the life and work of the order.

Divine lightning

Norbert was born in around 1080 in Gennep, a town that is nowadays in the Netherlands, near to the German border. As the second son of the Count of Gennep, Norbert was destined for a fine career in the service of the Holy Roman Empire. But fate decided otherwise.

One day, when he was out riding, a flash of lighting made his horse rear. Norbert was thrown to the ground. It was a moment of great impact, in every sense. On regaining consciousness, Norbert vowed to live a simple life of poverty. He renounced his wealth and privilege and became a poor itinerant preacher. Gradually, the thought of founding his own religious order grew in him. Norbert requested and received papal permission to do this and on Christmas Night, 1121, in Prémontré, northern France, Norbert and his followers founded the first Premonstratensian abbey: the Norbertine Order had been born.

Throughout the twelfth century, the Norbertine Order expanded considerably, especially in the Low Countries. Several other abbeys were founded, among them, in 1129, our own Park Abbey. Park Abbey flourished and grew to become an important religious, economic and cultural force in the wider area. During its own almost 900 years of existence, it has had a rich and eventful history.

Religion, Economy and Culture

Divine light(ning). 900 years of the Norbertines examines the order’s many interactions with society and the resulting Norbertine impact. Outstanding masterpieces and hidden gems from Norbertine abbeys still active in Belgium and the Netherlands will be on display. But you will also see pieces that formerly belonged to the order: a Rubens sketch; the Park Abbey Bible from 1148; a beautiful book of maps from Averbode Abbey; the Tsgrooten Antiphonary choir book from 1522; and an enclosed garden that was constructed with great care and devotion by a Norbertine canoness.

Raam 3 Bekering GL PO 06 2b INT 5031 cor

The exhibition explores the Norbertine Order, from its historical roots to the present. Learn about the order’s turbulent history. Discover how life in an abbey was organised. What were the Norbertines’ various tasks? What role did they play in religious, economic and cultural life?

The treasures of the abbey revealed

Divine light(ning). 900 years of the Norbertines takes us through Park Abbey’s historic rooms and spaces. Some of the monumental rooms are now accessible for the first time since their thorough restoration. After a long wait, we can once again admire the refectory and imposing library with their stucco ceilings, the cloister with its 17th-century stained glass windows, and the abbot's residence.

The 900th anniversary celebrations will be a total experience: uniting past, present and future in and among the abbey’s historic rooms. The connecting thread: the story of the Norbertines’ 900 years in Belgium and the world.