Ter Doest Abbey
In 1106, through the mediation of the Bishop of Tournai, Lambert van Lissewege donated an estate in Lissewege with a St Bartholomew’s Chapel to the Benedictines of Saint-Riquier (near Abbeville). The foundation was not a success. No real monastic community or priory managed to get off the ground. The bishop transferred them to the Cistercians of Ten Duinen in Koksijde in 1174–1175.
Daughter abbey of Ten Duinen
From Ten Duinen, twelve monks and three lay brothers were sent to Lissewege to establish a Cistercian abbey. They were under the leadership of Desiderius Haket (1175–1179), former dean of St Donatian in Bruges, who himself had entered Ten Duinen only a few years earlier. The new abbey of Ter Doest, or Thosan, often simply known as Capella, was Ten Duinen’s only daughter abbey.
Ter Doest was given starting capital that included distant property in Zeeland/South Holland. Like Ten Duinen, it quickly developed trade relations with England and Holland, but also with the North. A few Scandinavian prelates stayed in Ter Doest and died there. Cultural contacts included the Bruges chapter of St Donatian, which helped to expand the library.
13th century flowering
Like its mother abbey, Ter Doest grew considerably in the 13th century. Land ownership increased to 4,000 ha, less than half of Ten Duinen, mainly in the Bruges region and in Zeeland and the Four Shires (Vier Ambachten). There the abbey was active in combating rising water levels, especially in the Hulsterambacht and the Land van Saeftinge. Ter Doest was also involved in the water management activities in the region and played an important role in the local water board (wateringen). As a result, the abbot was a prominent figure in Bruges and environs.
In the course of the 13th century, Ter Doest bought the large forest and heathland area of Burkel in Maldegem, which was to provide the abbey with wood, from the Counts of Flanders. Abbots Jan Smedekin, Niklaas Cleywaert, Jan Servaes and Willem de Hemme (1253–1285) further developed the monastery complex in Lissewege. Around 1280, a monumental barn was added that has survived almost unchanged, although the roof construction dates from the 14th century. A century later, Willem de Smidt (1363–1385) built a separate abbot’s residence.
At its peak, the community consisted of a combined total of 120 monks and lay brothers. The choir monks were mainly involved in prayer, liturgy and study, and were active in the monastic granges (uithoven). The lay monks were generally less educated and, because of their various abilities, were deployed as skilled workers—for example, on the farms or in the scriptorium.
Conflicts and economic misfortune, c. 1301–1350
In the Franco-Flemish conflict around 1300, Ter Doest (out of necessity?) sided with the comital dynasty. Lay brother William van Saeftinge even fought against the French in the Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302). Later, he was involved in troubles that cost the abbey’s economist his life and injured the abbot. The reason was the trend toward renting out the property rather than keeping it under the direct monastic management. In the early 14th century, the abbey experienced difficult years. The abbey’s financial management needed reorganisation, which included renting out domains and selling property in Holland. The number of monks was limited to around fifty, the number of lay brothers to a little less.
Revival c. 1351–1500
Signs of revival are evident in the tenure of several abbots: Michiel de Smidt (1364–1417) wrote philosophical texts; successors Jan van Hulst (1385–1417) and Jacob Schaep (1425–1461) maintained good relations with the Burgundian court. During the Western Schism, the pontificalia (episcopal marks of dignity, such as the mitre) were obtained. The bibliophile Hendrik Keddekin (1478–1497) is still known for the acquisition of luxurious manuscripts and even printed books, which were a relatively new phenomenon at the time. In the early 16th century, the refuge of Ter Doest was built on the Potterierei in Bruges. This would later form the basis for Ten Duinen’s Bruges site.
The 16th century mainly brought problems. Repeated flooding of the property in Zeeland required heavy financial and logistical efforts to reclaim and exploit the domains, but these were not always successful. Growing religious dissent between Catholics and Protestants led to tensions. When Vincent Doens became abbot in 1559, the community only counted some twenty monks. Doens died in 1569 and was not replaced, because in 1561 the pope assigned the abbey to the bishop of the newly established diocese of Bruges. A Cistercian prior was to lead the abbey there. Negotiations to hand over Ter Doest to Ten Duinen remained fruitless.
The abbey emerged battered from the religious troubles. Local rebels set the abbey on fire in 1571. An abbot appointed by the States General had to sell property during his brief tenure in order to clear debts. After the Catholic reconquest of the region in 1584, the bishops regained control; a monk-administrator had to try and solve the financial problems.
Ter Doest transferred to Ten Duinen in the 17th century
Through the actions of the bishops, the abbey did not receive any more novices and gradually died out. Finally, in 1624, Bishop Petrus Stoffels (1623–1629) transferred the goods of Ter Doest to Ten Duinen for a considerable sum of money: the farmsteads, lands, built patrimony, works of art, archives, library…. The last two monks of Ter Doest each gave their consent shortly before they died.
The transfer united Ter Doest’s possessions with those of Ten Duinen. The latter took over the land and built patrimony, including the refuge in Bruges, which was expanded into a new Ten Duinen Abbey from 1628 onwards. However, the extensive land holdings in Zeeland - like those of Ten Duinen -- were lost to the Orange dynasty in 1648. The works of art, manuscripts and archives were merged with those of Ten Duinen.
The abbey site in Lissewege
The old abbey buildings in Lissewege were dismantled, partly to build the new abbey of Ten Duinen in Bruges. There are almost no depictions of the lost buildings. From 1651, under Abbot Bernard Bottyn (1648–1653), a farm was built on the site, with a gatehouse and dovecote tower. A monk lived there as administrator. In 1687, Abbot Marinus Collé (1678–1698) had a baroque chapel built on the access avenue. This was a token of gratitude for victory over a counter-abbot who had been supported by the French when they ruled in the Westhoek region.
The monks of Ten Duinen continued to visit the site of Ter Doest, even after the abbey was abolished by the French in 1796 and its possessions were nationalised and sold, since the former monks had succeeded in buying back the old domain of Ter Doest in Lissewege. When the last monk of Ten Duinen, Niklaas de Roover, died in 1833, the property was bequeathed to the first bishop of the recently re-established diocese of Bruges. In 1870, Ter Doest was transferred to the church factory of St Saviour’s Cathedral in Bruges. The domain continued as a leasehold until after the Second World War.
The monumental 13th-century barn with its 14th-century coping, the 17th-century farm buildings now housing a restaurant, and the baroque chapel on the entrance avenue are all that remain of the old patrimony.
(Jan Van Acker, 2021, for Mmmonk.be)