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The History of France's 'Chocolate Sisters': Inside the Monastic Life of a 160-Year-Old Religious Community

Located in the Maritimes-Alpes – north of Nice – this Cistercian abbey is home to 14 sisters, also known in the region as the “chocolate sisters.”

What does this strange name stand for?

These Provençal nuns have run a small artisanal chocolate factory for over 70 years. Below is the incredible history of Castagniers Abbey and its delicious chocolates.

The Castagniers Abbey is surrounded by beautiful cypress trees in Provence – © Castagniers Abbey

The Early Days of the Castagniers Abbey

The story of Castagniers Abbey begins 160 years ago in the heart of Provence.

At this time, the future Dom Marie-Bernard wanted to become a monk, but Trappists and Carthusians were too austere for him. He then settled with a small group of men at the Abbey of Sénanque, and began living as a “monk farmer.”

Thus, he brought together Cistercians of the common observance, which led to the creation of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception!

Within a year, the number of vocations burst! As a result, a group of young girls wanted to begin their own religious community based on this same way of life.

The brothers then accepted their request during Christmas of 1864. Quite a gift!

So they settled in an old but well-maintained Benedictine abbey at Notre-Dame de Salagon – north of Aix-en-Provence, France. Their monastic life began in 1865.

At Salagon, vocations poured in, and the monastery never stopped welcoming new sisters. Fortunately, they could count on the unity of the Cistercians! The brothers of Sénanque restored the ruins of an old convent at Reillanne, near Aix-en-Provence, where some of the sisters could settle.

Three years later, the entire community reunited in a convent called “Notre-Dame des Prés.” 

The sisters of Castagniers Abbey today. – © Castagniers abbey

On the Brink of Exile

However, the joy of the reunion soon shifted into a few unfortunate events. In fact, the anti-clerical laws of 1901 threatened the integrity of religious groups in France.

However, the sisters had an alternative plan. A small group settled in the monastery of Our Lady of the Angels in Italy and prepared for the possible arrival of the rest of the community. Thankfully, the Cistercian sisters were never expelled from Notre-Dame des Prés.

Finally, in 1930, the sisters arrived in Castagniers Abbey, a large 16th-century property with an olive grove and a vineyard, about 12 miles from Nice.

Ninety years later, in 2022, the sisters of Castagniers are still there. 

What is the Castagniers Abbey doing today? 

Nowadays, 14 Cistercian nuns of the “common observance” live in the Abbey of Our Lady of Peace in Castagniers.

Like their Cistercian brothers of strict observance (known as Trappists), the sisters follow the rule of Saint Benedict: “Pray and work.”

They wake up early to attend the first of their seven daily services at five o’clock in the morning, and for the rest of the day, they work with their hands.

In 1950, they started a monastic handicraft business by opening a chocolate factory. It has been their livelihood ever since.

Yes, for over 70 years, their only specialty has been chocolate! The nuns perpetuate their know-how to finance various jobs and meet the community’s needs.

Hazelnut pralines, almond pralines, white chocolate, milk chocolate caramel, etc… It’s all there! Their nickname, “the chocolate sisters,” comes from this.

Sister M.-B. making chocolates. / © Divine Box

Where to Find the Chocolate of Castagniers Abbey

The best thing to do is to go directly to the Castagniers Abbey. You can take the opportunity to visit the sisters– they will be delighted to welcome you!

Otherwise, you can visit the Divine Box online monastic shop to get some of the Castagniers Abbey’s products

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