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A Monastery Town - New Norcia, Part II

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Australia's Only Monastery Town

New Norcia

New Norcia is Australia's only monastic town. The Foundation stone for the town was laid in 1847. A community of Benedictine monks still occupy the monastery and have a say in the running of the town. It is a unique, historic and spiritual place, which instils in visitors a calmness and stillness which has become almost foreign in this modern world.

Interesting facts

  • The motto of the Benedictine monks of New Norcia is 'Pax', a Latin word meaning peace.
  • In keeping with St Benedict's rule of hospitality, the Monastery Guesthouse supplies accommodation and meals to those who wish to share in the rhythms and routines of the monks' daily rounds.
  • An extensive library of some 75,000 books, many of them rare, leather-covered volumes is another of the treasure troves to be found at the monastery.
  • Twenty-seven of the 65 character buildings are classified by the National Trust.
  • New Norcia was one of many Australian places which supplied quality, reliable horses as mounts for the British Army in India.
  • The richly decorated interiors of the chapels and other buildings display a variety of artistic finishes including, raggings, gilding, stencilling, fresco and sgraffito. Hand-painted pressed metal ceilings, hand-carved furniture and fine examples of representation wall paintings are also on view.

New Norcia Church

Abbey Church of the Holy Trinity

  • From 1997 to 2008, the abbot was the Placid Spearritt, surely a beautifully apt name for an abbot.
  • New Norcia's bakery with its massive 100-year-old oven has been rescued from almost certain demolition by a self-taught baker with a passion for sourdough. The brick-lined giant oven was built in 1911 and used continuously until the 1950s. It fell into disrepair over the next 30 to 40 years. Kingsley Sullivan recommissioned the oven in 1996 and the oven is back in use again.
  • In 1986, 26 irreplaceable paintings were stolen from the monastery. The paintings dated from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. All were returned several weeks later bar 'The Annunciation'. It is thought that this painting was destroyed because it was too large to fit in the getaway vehicle. Extensive repairs had to be made to the other paintings.
  • During a trip to Italy, Salvado took two aboriginal boys with him. They were taken to the monastery at Cava to begin their novitiate but both passed away from ill-health within a few years.
  • It is said the figure of a nun is sometimes seen wandering around the clock tower of the monastery as the bell tolls midnight.
  • In the late 1860s, Salvado made a quick trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka to investigate the cultivation of coffee. He had hopes that coffee, cinnamon and coconut might be potential commercial crops for the farm.
  • Dom Stephen Moreno was a Spanish monk and a prominent composer and publisher of church music. He arrived in New Norcia in 1908. He was a prodigious composer, always bearing in mind the resources to which he had access. These included several choirs, an all-aboriginal brass band and an orchestra. Some of his works were aimed at providing simple and accessible liturgical music. He travelled extensively throughout Australia to advise convents and schools and to supervise performances of his works.

New Norcia Hotel(59049)

New Norcia Hotel

  • During the late 1950s, some classes had 60 pupils under the tutelage of one Marist brother. One class had 10 boys named Michael but as the boys were addressed by their surnames there was never any confusion as to who was being addressed.
  • The public can 'Meet A Monk' to learn about what it is like to live in a monastic order and to ask questions about the lifestyle.
  • Ten kilometres south of New Norcia is New Norcia Station, a 35-metre ESTRACK radio antenna for communication with spacecraft. Officially opened in 2003, it was built for the European Space Agency. There is a very similar station, Cebreros Station near Madrid, Spain and Malargue Station is being built in Argentina.
  • Construction of the Abbey Church of the Holy Trinity was first commenced in 1855. Bush stones, mud plaster and rough-hewn tree trunks formed the basis of the building which was a simple cruciform plan of classical proportions. In 1870, a retro choir was added behind the high altar and choir screen. Abbot Torres designed the stucco façade and the bell tower with its clock and turret. These were added in 1907-1908.
  • Dom Paulino Gutierrez was the last Spanish monk at New Norcia. He died on 18 January 2010 at the aged of 99. Almost till his last days, he continued to prepare bread and distil olive oil for the monks.
The Salvado Memoirs Historical Memoirs of Australia and Particularly of the Benedictine Mission of New Norcia and of the Habits and Customs of the Australian Natives
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Jul 12, 2013)
Learn more about the ways of the
Benedictine monks and the
Australian natives in their area.

Today the tiny town of New Norcia attracts around 70,000 visitors each year. Some come to help with the olive harvest and to watch the olives being crushed and pressed using the age-old, traditional methods which have been used here since the monks first began to harvest their own olives. Some come to visit the Old and New Flour Mills, to view the various stages of production from wheat to flour to bread baked in the 100-year-old oven.

New Norcia presents opportunities to engage with Nyoongar indigenous culture by making bush glue (kop) and a hunting tool (darp) over an open fire, to build a traditional mia mia or shelter, to learn the steps of the corroboree or to learn the art of using the boomerang, spear-thrower and spear. Whatever their reason for coming, visitors find peace and tranquility at this age-old monastic town.

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