At the end of a year filled to the brim at Notre-Dame des Neiges (Ardèche), where they succeeded the Trappist Brothers, the contingent of Cistercians from Boulaur (Gers) gives thanks: everything is in place for a revitalization of the place.
irst, we had to make the place our own . Think, 22,000 m2 of buildings and 450 hectares of land at 1,100 meters above sea level! Enough to impress more than one, even if the previous monks had taken great care of the Notre-Dame des Neiges abbey . The eight sisters, aged 31 to 73, were not fooled: they rolled up the sleeves of their homespun dresses and got to work, quickly supported by two postulants, who brought the number of nuns of this emerging foundation. Maintenance of surrounding buildings and green spaces, beautification of living spaces to bring a feminine touch: new paints, new curtains or lampshades, different lighting.
Notre-Dame des Neiges Abbey
Many volunteers (students, retirees, etc.) from the four corners of France gave them their support: “The monastery is for us a home for life,” recalls Mother Anne, a bubbly forty-year-old and mother superior. It is up to us to make it a place where it is good to be. And it’s good to stop, because you know that we are on the route of the path of Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island and Journey with a Donkey in the Cévennes . Thus, 3,500 hikers stopped off with us last summer: making them feel welcome is important. »
A meeting crossroads
The 100 hectares of agricultural land adjoining the abbey are maintained by farmers, but the sisters, accustomed to manual labor, hope to be able to lend them a helping hand in the future. For the moment, they make a living from the sale of products from their store (products from friendly monasteries, local products, books and religious objects) and from welcoming pilgrims – for whom around thirty rooms are reserved in the hotel – and walkers -40 beds allow them to catch their breath at the House of Zacchaeus. “This dimension of welcome,” insists Mother Anne, “is part of the history of Notre Dame des Neiges which is located at the junction of three departments – Ardèche, Lozère, Haute-Loire – and radiates very widely. Groups come for a day or a weekend from surrounding dioceses. Furthermore, the proximity of the station (stationde La Bastide – Saint – Laurent – les – Bains) brings us retreatants from all over France. To which are added the walkers taking the Stevenson route. » The latter are offered a time of sharing and thanksgiving with a sister at dinner time, as well as participating in Compline: “Giving these passing guests the opportunity to live a spiritual experience is obvious to us , continues Mother Anne. Perhaps it will be a small stone strewn on their path of faith, who knows? »
Notre-Dame des Neiges Abbey
Notre Dame des Neiges also attracts some admirers of Saint Charles de Foucauld who only made two stays there of 18 months in total, in 1890 then in 1901, but experienced important events there: it was there that he entered into consecrated life, received his monastic training and celebrated his first mass. His memory is honored there in a small chapel containing a reliquary and through a modest museum. But according to the mother superior, there is still much to be done for the abbey to become an essential place of contemplation for all those, Christian or not, touched by the universal brother.
We’re on the go, but it’s so stimulating!
As we can see, projects abound. A reopening of the sawmill is under study and for several weeks the sisters have started manufacturing mysterious products on which they will lift the veil at Easter : “We are in the breach, but it is so stimulating! », enthuses Mother Anne. By then, there should be 12 of them within their walls.
Faith and fraternity first
But this excitement should not mask the essential: it is first and foremost the praise of God during the seven daily services punctuating their days which occupies the sisters. And if there was only one thing to remember from this first year in Ardèche, it would be for Mother Anne “the daily hour of exchange between us which made it possible to build the unity of our community. We defined our objectives, shared our expectations, our joys and our sorrows, learned to listen to each other and know each other better. »
To give thanks, the sisters chose not to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their community with great pomp: “We felt the need to celebrate among ourselves these twelve months which saw our community build and take root. It’s like a budding life that we marvel at! » Without fanfare, the daughters of Saint Bernard marked the occasion by celebrating a mass of thanksgiving, followed by a time of shared lectio divina and a festive meal. In the afternoon, they invited their neighbors, the little sisters of Nazareth and their chaplain father, Father Barthélemy, for a giant Cluedo through the monastery that the young sisters had concocted for them. A time of true and simple fraternity for a community full of promise.