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The abbey was founded in 1134 by Norbert of Xanten, a German Premonstratensian canon regular who had been sent to the Low Countries by his order's founder, Saint Norbert. The first buildings were erected on the banks of the river Zenne and dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. In 1218 Averbode became an independent abbey through purchase from Duke Henry I of Brabant (who also gave it some land). It flourished during its centuries-long affiliation with nearby Lier Abbey: many churchmen were educated there or ordained priests at Averbode before being transferred to Lier for further training as canons regular; others entered directly into service at one or both monasteries after ordination; still others joined only for short periods as novices before moving on elsewhere. In 1566 Spanish troops under General Alba took over all Catholic churches in Flanders during their repression following the Protestant Reformation, including those belonging to religious orders such as Averbode Abbey which had remained faithful to Rome throughout that period.