New Norcia

Want to spend a day in the lifetime of a monk?  Visit the Benedictine Community of New Norcia, and you'll have a totally monastic time.

New Norcia is Australia's only complete monastic town.  Every church, school, and lunch bar is owned by monks.  Designed in the style of a Spanish Benedictine village, New Norcia's grandiose buildings stand in stark contrast to the surrounding bushland.  With the monks hidden safely inside the monastery, you will feel like the only person left on Earth.  For this reason we recommend you visit New Norcia with a friend, and leave well before sunset.  

Monk in a monastery corridor in New Norcia.

 

A monk passing some time in the monastery.  

 

Monks Only.

The PAX about New Norcia..........

The big word in New Norcia is PAX, which is Latin for "peace".  The other big words are NO ADMITTANCE, which is Latin for "Don't open this door buddy".  Monks live a quiet existence, and part of the mystique is wondering what goes on behind those closed doors.  Once you glimpse a monk in boxer shorts the game is over, so please don't ruin it for us all.  Respect their privacy, and always knock before entering.

 

The only way you can open doors in New Norcia is to join the Official Town Tour.  Departing from the Museum at 11:00am and 1:30pm daily, an experienced guide holding a big set of keys, will unlock the mysteries of the town for you.  We would love to tell you what we saw, but it would breach the terms of the Secrecy Contract you sign before setting off.

For those who want the complete monastic experience, you can stay over in the Monastery Guesthouse for a couple of days.  Be Warned!  You have to make your own bed each morning, and other assorted items of wooden furniture as requested.  Remember to promptly settle your room tariff, otherwise you'll be washing the dishes... maybe for twenty years.

The Abbey Church.

 

Abbey Church - Est. 1861  (The Bell Tower was added in 1908 and is now celebrating 100 years of sleepless nights)

 

When monks go wild.

How to spot a monk.

These guys are an elusive bunch.  We heard their voices echo in the corridors, and witnessed curtains move in mysterious ways.  Yet we never actually encountered a monk.  It was rather like going whale watching, and only seeing a blowfish.  With only a handful of monks left, that is probably not surprising.  If you do spot one wandering the grounds, consider yourself lucky.  Eye witness accounts suggest they wear dark robes.  Look for them in the orchards, or levitating around the Benedictine Architecture.  Show them courtesy, and avoid flash photography at all times.         

Even monks can have a bad prayer day.

 

Running Australia's only monastic town is a big business.  The Benedictine Community is currently hiring monks.  With less than 10 full-time monks, the order may soon be forced to offer part-time positions.  A monastic career is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  In fact, it will be the only thing you do in your lifetime.  The monks themselves, employ about 80 people to help them run the town.  This allows them time to do monk things, like scrubbing the floors, and praying. 

The Monastery - Home of the monks of New Norcia.

 

The Monastery - Home to the Monks of New Norcia.

Tourism is vital to the economic survival of New Norcia.  So you can be rest assured, that every dollar you spend ends up in the Monastery.  To maintain their humble lifestyle, the monks now operate several business enterprises.   We spent some money at the following.......

 

The New Norcia Hotel.

This magnificent building was constructed in 1926/27, on a hunch the Spanish Royal Family were going to visit New Norcia.  Unfortunately it was only a hunch, and the royals never turned up.  The outcome was a grandiose building, which now looks rather out of place in the surrounding bushland.  The monks promptly altered the word "Hotel" to "Hostel", and used the building for the accommodation of parents of children boarding in New Norcia's colleges.  In 1955 it resumed duties as a hotel.  With a sweeping central staircase, and grand facade, the New Norcia Hotel recalls the charm of days gone by.  It also recalls the days when you all had to share a bathroom down the hall.

The New Norcia Hotel - Your safest bet after night falls.

Tourist Advice:   If you are caught in New Norcia after sunset seek refuge in the hotel.  The monks become extremely active during the night, and ring the church bells at strange hours.  So expect an, Omega Man/I Am Legend  sort of evening.

 

Saint Gertrude's College - Located behind the Art Gallery building.

The New Norcia Museum and Art Gallery.

The monks proclaim this to be the "finest collection of movable heritage in Australia".  In 1986 two art thieves found it to be very movable, and made off with 26 valuable paintings.  Fortunately, 25 of the paintings were later recovered.  After a detailed restoration, they are now back on display.   Hanging in the gallery are masterpieces by Italian and Spanish artists, dating all the way back to the 1400's. 

You can also view artefacts from the early days of the settlement, and gifts from the Queen of Spain.  Presumably the gifts were a pay off for not booking a room at the New Norcia Hotel during 1927.  There is a charge to enter the building, and photography is not allowed, just in case you decide to come back after hours.

Painting in the Abbey Church.

Authors Note:   Life On Perth respects the photography restrictions at the New Norcia Art Gallery, and advises that the building pictured above does not house the art collection.  It is in fact, Saint Gertrude's College, built as a convent school for girls in 1908.  It is located behind the Art Gallery.  Likewise, the above painting does not hang in the gallery, but in the nearby Abbey Church, just above the front door as you walk in.  It's probably worth heaps.

 

The New Norcia Bakery.

Located inside the secret confines of the Monastery, is the New Norcia Bakery.  The bakery is strictly off limits to the public.  Even catching a whiff from the cooling loaves is forbidden.  The bread is baked according to a century old Benedictine technique, and  local health regulations.  It is available for consumption at the New Norcia Hotel.  Loaves can also be purchased at the Museum Gift Shop, Roadhouse, and Brickworks.  We acquired a loaf, and enjoyed every slice of it.  The monks also produce Olive Oil, Beer, and Nut Cake.  The beer is now aging in the cellars beneath the Monastery, and is considerably more secure than their art collection.

The Flour Mill.

The Flour Mill.

 
The History Of New Norcia.

Founding Monks:  Salvado (left), Serra (far right) and goodness knows who the other guys are.

Victoria Plains - New Norcia.

New Norcia was founded in 1846 by Bishop Rosendo Salvado, and his good friend Dom Joseph Serra.  Together they planned to develop a Christian agricultural village around the indigenous population of the Victoria Plains.  They introduced Benedictine agricultural methods to the countryside, and some rather nasty diseases, which regretfully wiped out the locals.  Feeling pretty guilty about this, they changed the focus of New Norcia, to providing the indigenous children with a good Christian education.    They shipped the kids in from all over the state, as their numbers were now a bit low on the Victoria Plains.

St Ildephonsus' College with the Flour Mill in the foreground.

After Salvado's death in 1900, the monks directed more of their time to doing the things that monks do.  They prayed harder, acquired artwork, listened to religious music, and scrubbed the floors 24/7.  Times change, and by the 1950's social values had shifted, keeping many potential monks away from New Norcia.  The indigenous schools closed during the 1970's, and the monk numbers eventually dwindled to less than 10.  During Salvado's time the monk count was around 80.  In desperation the monks diversified into Tourism, reviving many of their traditional crafts, such as bread making, and olive oil production.  New Norcia now attracts thousands of visitors annually.

Saint Ildephonsus' College for boys (1913).

 

 

LOCATION.

You will find New Norcia 132 kilometres north of Perth.  It is a lazy 2 hour drive along the Great Northern Highway.  The highway actually dissects the town, so be sure to slow down when passing through. Otherwise you might hit a monk, or miss the town... or perhaps even do both.  Whether you decide to stay for a day, or even a lifetime, remember to keep the pax, and you'll have a totally monastic time.

Caution: Monks Crossing - St Ildephonsus' College.

 

CAUTION: MONKS CROSSING.

 

Copyright 2009 LifeOnPerth.com