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It was founded on 15 November 1872 by Beuron Abbey in Germany, the founder of many religious houses, at the instigation of Hildebrand de Hemptinne, a Belgian monk at Beuron and later abbot of Maredsous.

The foundation was supported financially by the Desclée family, who paid for the design and construction of the spectacular buildings, which are the masterwork of the architect Jean-Baptiste de Béthune (1831–1894), leader of the neo-gothic style in Belgium. The overall plan is based on the 13th century Cistercian abbey of Villers at Villers-la-Ville in Walloon Brabant.

The frescos however were undertaken by the art school of the mother-house at Beuron, much against the will of Béthune and Desclée, who dismissed the Beuron style as "Assyrian-Bavarian". Construction was finished in 1892.

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