Tarrawarra Abbey is a community of Cistercian monks located in the heart of the Yarra Valley, 60 kilometres north-east of the city of Melbourne. This abbey was founded in 1954 by Mount St Joseph Abbey, Roscrea in Ireland, and the monks belong to the worldwide Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (OCSO), popularly known as Trappists.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the famous spiritual writer Thomas Merton (author of The Seven Story Mountain). Well, he was a Trappist, too.
Fr Samuel Chua of the abbey explains that life there is a contemporary version of the ancient tradition of Cistercian monasticism with an Australian accent, designed to foster the experience of God and growth in prayerfulness and love.
'Our simple lifestyle gives priority to liturgical and personal prayer as well as sacred reading, balanced by community living, work and study.’
One of the many fascinating things about this abbey, other than its spirituality, is that it has economic independence. The monks there support themselves through a variety of means, including their cattle farm and guest housing. They used to have a dairy farm, Fr Chua explained, but that operation ceased in 2000 and they began the distribution of eucharistic breads to parishes across Victoria instead.
The monks have recently added some new items to their stock that are available for the wider Catholic community: a new array of handmade baptismal stoles and sacramental certificates to mark the journey of their children through each sacrament.
The practice of placing a stole over the child during the Sacrament of Baptism has a long history. Even though we tend to associate stoles with priests, it is actually an ancient part of the baptismal ceremony through which the person is welcomed into the church and takes their place as part of the priesthood of all believers in Christ. It is a powerful symbol of the fact that we are created for worship and love of God, and that our life is now being directed towards that.
Two of the stoles feature the Cistercian symbol of a small, encircled cross and the others include an elaborate design of a cross in water and a shell. Fr Chua explained that the circled cross is their monastery logo.
‘The Cross represents Christ while the circle symbolises the monastic community embracing Christ’s presence.'
The shell, he said, is a traditional Christian symbol of pilgrimage, while the water symbolises the waters of baptism.
These are exciting additions to what Tarrawarra Abbey has to offer, and their beauty and simplicity are reflective of the life of the monks themselves.
Learn more about Tarrawarra Abbey and their products
Melbourne Catholic22 September 2021
Fiona Basile21 September 2021