History of the Abbey

Situated in the heart of Burgundy

Founded in Switzerland in 1972, Saint-Joseph de Clairval Abbey moved to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in 1976, in the heart of the Auxois region, in an exceptional setting overlooking the beautiful Burgundy countryside, in one of France’s most beautiful villages with a remarkable architectural past. Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is in fact a medieval village which, from the 8th century to the French Revolution, was the seat of the first Benedictine abbey, the Abbey of Saint-Pierre. All that remains of this famous abbey are some 18th-century buildings and a superb Carolingian crypt. The site is now home to the factory that produces the famous “Anis de Flavigny” sweets, a family-run business completely independent of the Saint-Joseph de Clairval abbey. The latter took over a group of buildings constructed over the years around an 18th-century mansion, according to the needs of its previous occupants (girls’ boarding school, diocesan minor seminary).

Foundation of Saint-Joseph de Clairval abbey

Dom Augustin Marie Joly (1917-2006), founder of the abbey, professed a great devotion to St. Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, and it was to this modest yet powerful saint that he dedicated the new monastery. The name Clairval is a reminder of the young community’s early years in Switzerland.

In canonical terms, the community was officially recognized by the Bishop of Dijon as a Benedictine monastery of diocesan right on February 2, 1988, the feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple. The monastery was erected as an abbey at the request of the Holy See in 1992; on March 21 of that year, Dom Augustin Marie Joly received the abbatial blessing. The abbey was legally recognized by the French state under the law of July 1, 1901.

The abbey’s current superior, its third abbot, is Dom Jean-Bernard Marie Bories, elected on May 8, 2020 and solemnly blessed by the Archbishop of Dijon on the following September 7.

Following in the footsteps of Saint Benedict

Saint-Joseph de Clairval Abbey follows the Rule of St. Benedict and is therefore affiliated to the Benedictine Order. The monks wear the black habit and, for the main Offices, they don the white habit in honor of Mary. In his Rule, St. Benedict addresses those who are seeking God in order to guide them towards Him: “Care should be taken to observe whether the novice is truly seeking God”, he says of those who present themselves to enter the community (Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 58). The search for God is therefore the monk’s constant occupation, carried out through prayer, spiritual reading and work. Saint Benedict thus calls his followers to sing God’s praises, the Divine Office, seven times a day, in the words of the prophet: “Seven times a day I have sung your praises” (Psalm 118), and he asks that nothing be preferred to God’s work (Rule of Saint Benedict, chapter 43). The monks also spend their time at work. This takes many different forms, from housework and maintenance of the buildings and grounds, to profit-making activities (icon-making, DTP, book publishing, mail-order sales, etc.).

The spiritual retreat apostolate

In accordance with the founder’s explicit intention, Saint Joseph de Clairval Abbey carries out an apostolate by preaching spiritual retreats to men. These retreats, usually lasting five days, follow the itinerary of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius’ perspective echoes that of St. Benedict: he introduces his Exercises by saying: “Man is created to praise, honor and serve God, and thus to save his soul” (Principle and Foundation, Spiritual Exercises no. 23). So he too addresses those who seek God. Its purpose is not to establish the conditions of a community life, as St. Benedict does, but to propose a spiritual itinerary of soul purification and commitment to the following of Christ. The retreats offered by the abbey take place on site or in guest houses in various locations. They are a specific and essential part of the abbey’s identity, giving it a unique place in the Benedictine world.

The Spiritual Letter edition

As an extension of the retreats, Dom Augustin Marie has taken up the habit of sending former retreatants first a word and then a short letter of encouragement to persevere in fidelity to God’s grace and in the Christian life. Over time, this letter was embellished with passages from the lives of saints, and in the mid-90s became the monthly Lettre de l’abbaye, recounting the lives of saints or converts in four pages. Its distribution has expanded from retreatants to anyone wishing to receive it. It is currently translated into seven languages, and over 30,000 copies have been sent free of charge to around 100 different countries. The testimonies received indicate that knowledge of the lives of the saints is of interest to Christians today, and supports them in their fidelity to the Lord.