History of New Norcia
New Norcia , in Western Australia, was founded in 1848 by two
Spanish Benedictine monks, Bishop Rosendo Salvado and Bishop Dom Joseph Serra who travelled to Australia to
set up missions. They were granted 7,500 hectares of freehold land which they developed into the New Norcia
Mission and a profitable farm. Eventually becoming one of the most successful missions in Australian
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 1860's-70's the mission flourished with the monks building a series of wells, breeding
horses, producing silk & olive oil and growing grapes,almonds, dates & carob.
Divide Between Aboriginals and ChristianitySalvado and the monks worked closely with the Nyoongar people teaching them
farming skills and supplying them with food. Salvado also wanted to find a common ground between the
Aboriginals belief and his own Christian ones. He started by studying and recording the Aborigines language
and customs which he kept in his diaries.
The divide between the aboriginals and the Christians would often seem too wide, but certain
incidents would bring the community together. One which is told in the book "The Story of New Norcia" retells the
time when a fire broke out and threatened the monks crops and the mission itself.
A high wind was fanning the fire and the monks tried in vain to put out the flames. Many received
burns to their hands and faces and some even had their beards singed. With no options left the monks ran into the
chapel and removed the picture of Our Lady (sacred image of Mary) and placed it in front of the raging fire. Within
minutes the wind changed direction and the flames died down. Both the monks and the aboriginals were witness to the
event . The event was seen by the monks as protection granted by the Holy Mother and the aborigines saw it as "the
White Lady understands everything".
A mass the following the next day was attended by all the monks and aboriginals of the area. In
reflection, Salvado's efforts were of mixed success, but one thing which was clear was the Aboriginal people
admired this foreigner. When Salvado died in Rome in 1900, the local aboriginals were inconsolable. So strong was
their anguish, it is said that they greatly influenced the decision to bring his body back from Italy.Today
Salvado's body lies in a tomb in the Abbey Church.
Bishop Fulgentius TorresAfter Salvado's death a new successor arrived from Spain, Bishop
Fulgentius Torres. Bishop Torres became the new Abbot and was responsible for the design and supervision of new
buildings. He also had a strong desire for education and it wasn't long before two colleges St Gertrude's College
for Girls and St Ildephonsus for boys were built.
Surviving HardshipsNew Norcia went through many hardships throughout the 20th century,
including two world wars, great economic depression and several droughts. In 1986 the Monastery was robbed and
twenty six paintings stolen. The robbery happened late on the afternoon of January 23rd whilst caretaker, Connie Mc
Naughton, was locking up for the night. She was tied up, gagged and locked in the toilet, whilst the thieves
slashed the 16th, 17th and 18th century paintings from their frames. Two weeks later, all but one painting 'The
Annunciation', were recovered in Sydney as they were being prepared to be sent overseas. The missing painting
valued at $500,000 (at the time)was believed to have been destroyed when the thieves were unable to fit it into the
getaway car. In 1991 both the girls and boys school closed due to rising costs and decreasing enrolments.
New Norcia Today
However the forward moving Benedictine community have continued to grow strong through tourism and their various
product lines including bread, wine and food. One of St Benedicts rules, when he founded the Benedictines in Italy
over 1500 years ago, was that all monks should greet anyone who arrives at their monastery gates as "if it were God
Himself who had knocked". So when you arrive at New Norcia the one thing you won't be denied is hospitality. Today
New Norcia has over 700,000 people visiting the town each year.