New Norcia was founded in 1847 by Dom Rosendo Salvado and is home to eight Benedictine monks who own the town, including residential houses where around 50 people live. Most of them are staff. Others travel from surrounding towns and farms. The monks are part of the Roman Catholic tradition.
It is the only monastic town in Australia. After 150 years not much has changed so when its ancient doors are unlocked visitors delight in entering a world of church bells, secret courtyards and olive groves. It's the perfect destination for a spiritual weekend away from the city.
Natalie Gruzlewski was taken by New Norcia's architecture which has a strong Spanish influence. Twenty-seven buildings are National Trust-classified and the town as a whole is registered on the National Estate. The buildings house a museum and art gallery containing wonderful old paintings, manuscripts and religious artefacts.
Daily life in New Norcia is simple but structured. Monks rise at 5am and retire at 8.45pm. In between they meet six times for prayers, meals and work. There are recreation periods after lunch and dinner. Meals are taken together, though mainly in silence. They don't leave the monastery without seeking permission and as well as prayer and study, each one has a job to do.
While New Norcia is open and welcoming, guided tours are the only way to see the beautiful interiors created by the monks. Natalie joined local Carmel Ross for a stroll around the town. She saw the chapel of the St Ildephonsus College, built as a boarding school for boys.
Artwork around the church by Father Lesmes Lopez is being restored and the tomb of Bishop Salvado are other points of interest on the walk.
The New Norcia Heritage Trail is a self-guided walking tour featuring Abbey Church, a statue of Bishop Salvado, a 19th-century sundial, Bishop's Well and the octagon-shaped Beehouse.
The New Norcia Hotel is open for lunch and dinner every day. Bread, wine and olive oil formed the basis of the Benedictine diet in around the sixth century and they feature on the New Norcia Hotel, with extra goodies for visitors. They have a special blend of coffee or you may like to relax and enjoy a glass of Abbey wine or Abbey ale, a handcrafted brew made exclusively for the monks.
The hotel was built in 1927 as accommodation for parents visiting their children boarding at the college. It became a hotel in the 1950s and has 15 basic, comfortable rooms with shared bathrooms.
Meals can be formal or casual, and Sunday-night roasts feature in winter and barbecues in summer. The verandah is just the right place to have a meal and drink.
New Norcia Roadhouse is convenient for a snack, coffee or cold drink or to pick up some takeaway for a picnic.
The Monastery Guesthouse is hidden behind the walls of the southern cloister. It's a place of retreat for individuals and groups wishing to enjoy the simple life and rhythms of the monastic community.
The Old Convent was the home of Spanish Teresian and Benedictine sisters. The courtyard residence is loaded with atmosphere and charm. It self-contained with kitchen, dining and lounge room and accommodates up to 30 people.
St Ildephonsus' Cottage is a self-contained cottage offering accommodation for seven people.
St Gertrude's and St Ildephonsus' colleges, once former boarding schools, are popular venues these days for school camps, art and music workshops, retreats and conferences.
New Norcia, two hours from Perth.
Benedictine Community of New Norcia two-hour tours cost $14.50 for adults and $9 for children. They depart at 11am and 1.30pm.
New Norcia Museum & Art Gallery entry is $10 for adults and $6 for children. It gives all-day access to three floors with artefacts and one of Australia's finest collections of movable heritage. It is open from 9am to 4.30pm every day.
Combined entry and a two-hour town tour costs $23 for adults and $14 for children.
New Norcia Hotel accommodation is $75 a single a night, $95 for a double and $22 for an extra person. Continental breakfast is included.
New Norcia Guesthouse has no fixed charge but they suggest a donation of $75 per person which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Virgin Blue has flights to Perth.
One-way fares from:
- Adelaide $169
- Melbourne $235
- Sydney $239
- Darwin $249
- Brisbane $279
- Hobart $299
There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares quoted are one-way booked on the Internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are subject to change.
Prices correct at April 22, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 136 789
Great Northern Highway
New Norcia 6509
Ph: (08) 9654 8002
New Norcia Visitor Centre
Ph: (08) 9654 8056
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