New Norcia is a monastic town found 132kms north of Perth along the Great Northern Highway. It is the only monastic town in Australia.
Brief History of New Norcia
New Norcia was founded in 1848 by two Spanish Benedictine monks, Bishop Rosendo Salvado and Bishop Dom Joseph Serra who travelled to Australia to set up Catholic missions in the new colony of Western Australia. They were granted 7,500 hectares of freehold land which they developed into the New Norcia Mission and a profitable farm. Their hard work eventually paid off, as it would become one of the most successful missions in Australian history.
The town was named after Norcia, a town in the Umbria Province of Northern Italy, in honour of the birthplace of the Order’s founder, St Benedict. Salvado’s original idea was to create a self-sufficient town based on Christian ideals and agriculture. In 1867 Bishop Salvado was appointed Abbot.
During the 1860s-70s the mission flourished with the monks building a series of wells, breeding horses, producing silk & olive oil and growing grapes, almonds, dates & carob. After Salvado’s death in 1900 a new successor arrived from Spain, Bishop Fulgentius Torres. He became the new Abbot and was responsible for the design and supervision of new buildings. Click here for more History of New Norcia.
Things You May Not Know About New Norcia
What’s an old town without a good old ghost story. It is believed that a ghost of a nun dressed in blue, can sometimes be seen wandering around the clock tower of the monastery just as the bell tolls midnight. Click here for Blue Nun of New Norcia.
One of the ways Bishop Salvado raised money for New Norcia was to hold a public piano recital.
Bishop Salvado died in Rome at the age of 86, but he requested his body be returned and buried in New Norcia. Today it is in a tomb inside the Abbey Church.
Twenty-seven of the sixty-five building spread throughout the five-acre site are listed by the National Trust.
During one of Salvado’s trips to Italy, he took two Aboriginal boys from his mission school with him. On arrival in Italy, both boys were clothed in the black Benedictine habit by Pope Pius IX himself. The boys were then taken to Cava monastery to begin their novitiate. Sadly they both died within a few years of their stay, due to poor health.
The Abbey Church houses one of only two Moser organs in the world. The organ was created in Germany and arrived in WA in the 1920s.
Horses bred at New Norcia were of such good quality that for many years they were sold in India for use by the British Army.
In 1986, 26 paintings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were stolen from the monastery. All were recovered except for ‘The Annunciation’ which was believed to have been destroyed by the thieves after they couldn’t fit it into their getaway car.
In 2003, the 100 tonne New Norcia Satellite dish was to have an active role in 2003, the European Space Agency’s “Mission to Mars” (Mars Express) project. The dish was to be the first to receive data, beamed down from Mars, from the high tech Beagle 2 Lander. Unfortunately, the Lander disappeared down a crater, never to be seen of again. However, the New Norcia Deep Space Ground Station is now currently involved in the “Rosetta Project”, of landing a craft on the comet Wirtanen, some 900 million kilometres out in space (fingers crossed there are no craters on this one!).
Things Are Looking Up In New Norcia
It doesn’t take long to realise that the town of New Norcia was built with a Mediterranean architectural influence. Founded by two Spanish Benedictine Monks it isn’t surprising that Bishop Torres who designed many of the buildings would add a distinctive European feel to this remote location. Driving into town from such a rural landscape it comes as almost a shock to see such architecture in the middle of nowhere. For more about the architecture of New Norcia check here