The Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud or Fontevrault (in French: abbaye de Fontevraud) was a monastery in the village of Fontevraud-l’Abbaye, near Chinon, in Anjou, France. It was founded in 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. The foundation flourished and became the center of a new monastic Order, the Order of Fontevrault. The Abbey of Fontevraud itself consisted of four separate communities, all completely managed by the same abbess.
Fontevraud Royal Abbey, situated where the three regions of Poitou, Anjou and Touraine meet, is one of the largest surviving monastic cities from the Middle Ages. The Abbey was listed as an Historic Monument in 1840, and, as part of the Loire Valley, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. In a green valley just a few kilometres from the Loire River, near Saumur, Fontevraud is one of the unmissable stops on a visit to the Loire Valley. A stop, but also a destination.
The Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud or Fontevrault where the Abbey is located was then part of what is sometimes referred to as the Angevin Empire. The King of England, Henry II, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and son, King Richard the Lionheart were all buried here at the end of the 12th century. It was disestablished as a monastery during the French Revolution.
Initially mixed monastery, welcoming women and men in the same buildings, then enlarged into a double monastery in the spirit of the Gregorian reform, the Abbey of Fontevraud will attract the protection of the Counts of Anjou and the dynasty of Plantagenets who will make their necropolis. After a decline from the thirteenth century, the abbey is directed for almost two centuries by abbesses from the royal family of the Bourbons. The French Revolution brought a definitive halt to the religious establishment that was transformed into a penitentiary establishment until 1963. The various renovations of buildings began in the nineteenth century after the classification of the abbey as a historical monument in 1840 and continue to the present day. In 2000, the abbey of Fontevraud is registered with the world inheritance of UNESCO with the whole cultural site of the Loire Valley.
The monastic complex today consists of two remaining monasteries on the four original. The most important is the Grand-Moûtier monastery, open to the public, which houses the abbey church, the Romanesque kitchen and the Saint-Benoît chapel of the twelfth century, as well as the cloister, the conventual buildings, including the chapter house, and infirmaries of the sixteenth century. Some of the buildings now house seminar rooms. The Priory Saint-Lazare, whose church dates from the twelfth century, was transformed into a hotel residence.
From the very beginning, art and culture have constituted an essential component in life at Fontevraud. Even the reclining effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine shows her with an open book in her hand. The Royal Abbey, a listed historical monument, is a unique cultural site. Monastic architecture, the life of nuns and then of prisoners, the history of France and of Europe, this site with its nine centuries of history is a rich mine of cultural information.
The Royal Abbey is also a centre of contemporary art and culture. Contemporary art holds an important place, visible in our permanent collection of works of art. The visual arts are also represented in the temporary exhibition space. Art is not only exhibited at Fontevraud, but also created. Artist residencies are numerous, particularly in the field of animated film, which has become a house speciality.
At the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud we boast a daring and dynamic cultural programme, with something for everyone. Religious and classical music mixes with jazz, song, folk, slam … Film screenings, debates and conferences are also held. In brief, this abbey is not like others, culture is not confined to the chapel.
The Abbey of Fontevraud was founded in 1101 by the monk and hermit Robert d’Arbrissel. In 1096, this one receives from Pope Urban II visiting Angers, a mission of apostolic preaching. Becoming a traveling preacher, Robert d’Arbrissel is soon followed by a large crowd of men and women of different social classes. He settled between 1099 and 1101 in a valley named Fons Ebraldi and founded there with his disciples a mixed house, breaking with the rules of ordinary monasticism. In times of Gregorian reform, Robert’s attitude attracts the wrath of the religious hierarchy: the cohabitation of men and women in the same place goes badly, and Robert scandalized when sleeping in the midst of women. Robert’s closeness to the sexes is explained by the hermit’s practice of syneisaktism, an ascetic practice that consists of the chaste cohabitation of people of different sex in order to overcome carnal temptations.
In 1101, the house is transformed into a double order. He thus separates the men (the Saint-Jean-de-l’Habit monastery) from the women (the Grand-Moûtier monastery). Two other structures are also created: the Monastery of the Madeleine for the repentant sinners and the convent Saint-Lazare for the lepers. The order of Fontevraud is recognized since 1106 by the bishop of Poitiers and by the pope Pascal II. The first buildings are built in the first quarter of the twelfth century, shortly after the foundation. The great families of the local aristocracy, especially the Counts of Anjou, are quick to support the foundation. Ermengarde d’Anjou is one of the first members of the Angevin family to take the abbey into consideration. Daughter of Foulque the Réchin, it makes ratify by her brother, Foulque V, her gifts with the abbey of Fontevraud. She retired there in 1112 and left the abbey in 1118. The following year, we dedicate the choir and transept of the abbey church, soon followed by the nave with cupolas.
Robert d’Arbrissel then fixed the first statutes of the abbey for the nuns. During the installation of the cast iron community in 1101, the abbey of Fontevraud depended on Gautier de Montsoreau, direct vassal of the count of Anjou. Gautier’s mother-in-law, Hersende de Champagne, becomes the first grand-prioress of the abbey when Robert d’Arbrissel decides to resume his roaming.
A first abbess, Petronille of Chemille, is then elected in October 1115, before the death of Robert, on February 25th of the following year13,14. His body is buried in the choir of the abbey church of Fontevraud, then under construction15. Many religious, however, refuse to submit to the administration of a woman, and some decide to desert the monastery. Petronille Chemillé and Mathilde d’Anjou, who succeeded him in 1149, decided to involve the pope to stop departures. The problem disappears after the intervention of Pope Anastasius IV in 1154. However, it reappears later in the 17th century.
Throughout the twelfth century, the order of Fontevraud continues to expand: at the death of Robert d’Arbrissel, it already has thirty-five priory, bringing together two thousand men and women religious. Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, counts between four and five thousand nuns around 1150. At the end of the century, there are a hundred priories throughout France, and subsequently, in Spain and England.
The necropolis of the Plantagenets
The transformation of the abbey into a dynastic necropolis Plantagenets greatly contributes to its development. Henri II, married to Aliénor in 1152, made his first visit there on May 21, 1154. The couple entrusted to the abbey its two youngest children: Jeanne, born in 1165, and Jean, future King of England. He left the abbey after five years, while Jeanne did not leave until 1176, for his marriage. In 1180, Henry II financed the construction of the parish church of Fontevraud, the Church of St. Michael, built near the abbey. In 1189, morally and physically exhausted by the war waged by his sons and the King of France, Henry II died in Chinon. No provision had been made to prepare the funeral. Although the former king was able to talk about being buried in Grandmont, in the Limousin, it is difficult to transport the body in the middle of summer and nobody wants to take the time of the trip. Fontevraud is then chosen for convenience, in order to ward off the most hurried.
Richard the Lionheart died on April 6, 1199, in Chalus-Chabrol. On the choice of his mother Aliénor, the remains are taken to Fontevraud and buried on April 11 alongside his father. Jean Favier expresses the idea that with this choice, Aliénor wishes to create a dynastic necropolis, on the ancestral lands of the Plantagenet family, but also on the border with Poitou, and Aquitaine, his native land. Jeanne, affected by the death of her brother, went to Rouen with her younger brother, Jean. Pregnant and weakened, she finally retired to Fontevraud and died July 11, 1199 by giving birth to a child, Richard, who will live just enough to be baptized.
In 1200, back from Castile, Eleanor decided, at more than 80 years, to withdraw in a virtually final way to Fontevraud. She died four years later, April 1, 1204 in Poitiers, and is buried alongside her husband, his son Richard and his daughter Jeanne. After the death of Aliénor, his sons and grandson continue to regard the abbey as a family necropolis. In 1250, Raymond, Count of Toulouse and son of Jeanne, is buried at his request to his mother. In 1254, Henri III, son of Jean, organizes the transfer of the remains of his mother Isabelle d’Angoulême, then buried in Angoumois at Notre-Dame de la Couronne abbey, until Fontevraud. His heart is deposited there at his death.
The end of the Plantagenet empire puts the abbey in a delicate situation. His possessions extend over the whole area of the former plantagenet territory, including England. The possessions Angevin and Tourangelles are passed on the side of the king of France, but those of Poitou and Guyenne are still under more or less strong English influence which participates in a kind of feudal anarchy in Aquitaine. This situation is in addition to the growing poverty of the Fontevraud order. At the end of the 12th century, the abbess Mathilde of Flanders mentions “the excessive poverty of which we suffer”. To overcome these financial difficulties, in 1247, the nuns are allowed to benefit from the property of their parents in succession. The creation of new cast iron priory is stopped. In 1248, Pope Innocent IV imposed the abbey of ten livres tournois for the maintenance of the Bishop of Tiberias, a contribution refused by the abbess which pretends the cost represented by 700 religious and staff of the abbey to feed. At the end of the 13th century, the abbess was obliged to exchange the estate of Ponts-de-Cé near Angers to the Count of Anjou against a rent of 300 staves of wheat and 70 pounds in silver. In 1297, the bishop fixed the maximum number of nuns of the Grand Mouûtier at 300, against 360 before.
To financial difficulties is added the beginning of the Hundred Years War. In 1369, the abbey lost about 60% of its land rents, aggravating an already difficult financial situation. The abbey was not looted during the war, but the surroundings were ravaged several times in 1357, 1369 and 1380. In 1460, Guillaume de Bailleul, prior of Saint-Jean de l’Habit, reports the weakening of the melting order. He visits fifty priories, three of which are abandoned by the castles. Most count only a few religious.
Upon his arrival at the head of the abbey in 1457, the abbess Marie de Bretagne, daughter of Richard d’Etampes hastened to reform the order: it removes priory too poor and writes a new rule. As soon as sacred, King Louis XI does not hesitate to support the abbey. He confirms again the privileges on October 15, 1479. Despite the support of the pope, the successor of Marie de Bretagne, Anne of Orleans, struggles to impose the reform to the nuns. In 1491, only six priories of the order are reformed.
Renée de Bourbon was elected abbess in 1491, at the death of Anne of Orleans. She is the first of five abbesses from the Bourbon royal family to be elected to Fontevraud. As soon as she is elected, she applies the reform and undertakes an architectural renovation. Under its abbey, are built the fence of the abbey long one kilometer three hundred and a gallery contiguous to the north transept of the abbey. It redevelops the southern part of the cloister by building on the first floor forty-seven cells for the nuns, and rebuilding the refectory. Louise de Bourbon succeeded him and continued the renovation of the Grand Mouûtier by rebuilding the other three galleries of the cloister and developing the east wing. In the latter, she rebuilds the community hall and the chapter house where the Angevin painter Thomas Pot paints the paintings of the Passion of Christ. In 1558, a flood destroyed most of the buildings of the infirmary Saint-Benoît, while sparing the chapel34. Louise de Bourbon died in 1575, after being abbess for 41 years. It is Eleonore de Bourbon who succeeds him, also pursuing the work. She finished the dormitory and decided to rebuild the infirmary of Saint-Benoit, devastated by the floods of 1558: the work, considerable, cost 37 410 pounds.
Louise de Bourbon de Lavedan became abbess in 1611. She created in 1618 a seminary for the monks of Saint-Jean de l’Habit in La Flèche and acquires in 1632 the funds of the seneschal of Saumur to constitute a library in the monastery. Likewise, she has ditches dug and erected a wall around Saint-Jean de l’Habit so that religious can live in strict enclosure, minimizing contact with the outside world. However, even before Louise’s death in 1637, the conflict between the abbess and the religious resurfaced: just like the foundation of the order, religious only accept with difficulty that a woman has authority over them. The desertions multiply, religious of Saint John of the Habit leave the monastery to join other orders. Papal bubbles are trying to stem the movement, but it is necessary to wait until 1641 to put an end to it:
the Abbess Jeanne-Baptiste de Bourbon obtained from the Council of State a judgment which confirms the importance and the role of the abbess in the order. The rebellious monks submit. In 1642, the rule of the order of Fontevraud is printed.
In 1670, the abbey has 230 nuns, 60 religious as well as many lay people in charge of the administration and 47 servants. The death of Jeanne-Baptiste will profoundly mark the fate of the abbey: the former abbess Having not chosen a coadjutrice as was the custom, the new abbess is then appointed by the king himself.
On August 16, 1670, Louis XIV appointed at the head of the Abbey and Order Mary Magdalene Gabrielle Rochechouart, sister of Madame de Montespan – who created in 1693 the Hospice of the Holy Family, intended to receive one hundred poor, she will transfer the 14/11/1703 to Oiron (79) domain acquired in March 1700 for his son, future Duke of Antin – who knew life at the court of the King. At the head of the order, Gabrielle de Rochechouart tries to suppress abuses and derogations from the rule she enjoins to strictly follow. It also completed the construction of the novitiate, landscaped gardens, built a gallery linking the abbey to Bourbon Park and continues the construction of the abbey palace. More intellectual than a theologian, the new abbess sets up a certain worldly life by receiving her family or by having Esther’s play, Jean Racine’s play, derogate from the rule of order. Madame de Montespan herself stayed for a year at the abbey in 1689, attracting part of her court.
Louise-Françoise de Rochechouart took the head of the abbey at the death of Gabrielle in 1704. In June 1738, the four younger girls of Louis XV arrive at Fontevraud where the king entrusts them to the education of the nuns. A new home is built in the west, the Bourbon home, completed in 1741, expanded new facilities in 1747. The daughters of Louis XV will remain there until 1750. The last abbesses, Marie-Louise Timbrone and Julie- Gillette de Pardaillan extend the abbey palace, build the buildings of the Fannerie and stables, and erect the current portal of entry, on the eve of the Revolution.
Revolution and suppression of the Order
The French Revolution will bring the fatal blow to the abbey and the order of Fontevraud. Following the revolutionary events, the financial situation of the abbey worsens rapidly: the tithe, which brought him 600 pounds a year, is no longer perceived. On the night of August 3 to 4, the National Assembly decrees the end of privileges and declares the imposition of the privileged for the last six months of the year 1789.
The coup de grace arrives on November 2, 1789: the goods of the clergy are declared national property. The abbey still has 70 nuns, 40 converses and about twenty religious and the order of Fontevraud directs another 52 priories. But the abbess refuses to evacuate the place. The unity of the community of Fontevraud is maintained for several months.
On April 30, 1790, the mayor of Fontevraud, Alexandre Guerrier, former monk of Saint-Jean de l’Habit, arrives at the door of his former convent with the municipality. The convent has only 21 religious and 18 brothers convers. An inventory of the property is drawn up and a certain number of religious take advantage of it to leave the order and receive in return a pension from the State. On July 19, the Saumur district administration proceeds with the inventory of the rest of the abbey’s furniture: it takes eight days and ends on the 26th. With the exception of a sister converse, the nuns declare all their intention to stay put. On August 5, the administration hires the last brothers of Saint-Jean de l’Habit to leave the abbey and pays them a deposit on their pension. On June 2, 1791, the convent is completely empty and on August 16, the remaining furniture is sold, signing the end of St. John of the Habit.
On August 17, 1792, the Convention decrees that buildings still occupied by religious must be evacuated before October. The nuns leave the abbey little by little during the autumn. Julie-Gillette of Pardaillan d’Antin, the last abbess, left the abbey last, September 25, 1792. The estate is then divided into lots, and the furniture is difficult to sell on October 15. On January 30, 1793, a troop enters the abbey despite the intervention of the guardian, and begins to loot and ransack the buildings. The sarcophagi and coffins of the vault of the abbesses are broken and the bones left abandoned or thrown away. To prevent further looting, the municipality is rushing to sell the remaining property. The 106 former religious still living in Fontevraud witness the ultimate dispersion of the furniture and the hammering of the coat of arms and signs of the Ancien Régime. In full Terror, the atmosphere is heavy and the former occupants of the abbey become suspicious in the eyes of the administration.
In Year III, the municipality takes measures to prevent daily damage and vandalism of buildings. The church of Saint John of the Habit threatens ruin, but the municipality does not have the financial means to proceed with the repairs. The leasing of the abbey grounds, which encourages daily looting, is terminated.
On October 18, 1804, Napoleon I signed a decree that transformed the abbey into a detention center, as well as those of Clairvaux and Mont Saint-Michel. The conversion work, entrusted to the Alfred Normand Roads and Bridges engineer, took place from 1806 to 1814. Successive reorganizations were made until the closure of the prison on July 1, 1963, without touching the essentials. structures. Building on the old fence, Normand built a real walk around the Grand Mouûtier. New buildings are built near the abbey and in the courtyards. The nave of the abbey is separated by two levels of floors to house the detainees, the choir serves as a chapel. If some buildings are destroyed or badly damaged, the work and the transformation into prison have nevertheless saved the carcass from ruin. The first prisoners arrived in 1812. The prison was officially opened on August 3, 1814, employing about twenty people. In 1817, Fontevraud became a house of strength and correction for nineteen departments. New developments are needed. In 1821, the architect Durand was named to the old abbey. In order to gain maximum space, he removes a large number of partitions and seeks to multiply the floors, especially in the nave of the abbey. The cupolas of it are then razed to develop the attic in 1825. The north wing of the cloister is added an additional floor and the refectory is added a floor.
Workshops and factories are set up using the labor of the prisoners, the local populations thus finding a substitute for the religious community which had given them until then a certain economic ease. They made mother-of-pearl buttons, gloves, nets, blankets for the army and also processed hemp and flax. The most obedient are chores in the fields. The detained women leave Fontevraud in 1850, when they are transferred to Rennes.
Known as the “thousand-and-one-window prison” because of its inadequate prison architecture (too many windows and doors for escapes), detention conditions were made more difficult and Fontevraud was considered the most important penitentiary center. lasts in France, with that of Clairvaux. The prison thus knew little escape in 150 years of existence. The most striking was a triple escape on June 15, 1955, the tracking of detainees for nine days sowing the psychosis and confusion in the three neighboring departments and ending with a shooting 50 km from the penitentiary, in Sainte-Maure-de- Touraine.
Designed to accommodate 1,000 inmates, the prison receives up to 2,000 prisoners in the 1830s and employs 150 supervisors and their families often many, which makes the village live with no less than three bakeries, a butcher, a deli and five grocery stores. Most of the 600 prisoners are evacuated at the closure of the prison, except about forty, employed in the maintenance of green spaces and the demolition of penitentiary facilities. They leave definitively the residual prison, the district of La Madeleine, in 1985, date at which the places are returned to the “civil life”.
Population counted separately during the censuses of the town of Fontevraud-L’Abbaye. These figures include all the detainees, but also the military and internees throughout the municipality (about 1/20 of the total figure).
Catering and opening to the public
From 1840, thanks to the action of Prosper Mérimée, Inspector General of Historical Monuments, the former Abbey of Fontevraud appears on the first national list of classification of historical monuments.
Gradually, several buildings are released from their assignment: the cloister in 1860, the refectory in 1882, the tower of Évrau and the abbey church, 90 meters long, at the beginning of the XX century and are gradually restored. From the closure in 1963 to the end of the 20th century, almost uninterrupted restoration projects gave it the appearance that the visitor now discovers.
In 1963 the photographer Pierre Jahan takes a shot of the polygonal cupola of the old kitchen, which he publishes in Objective
The Western Cultural Center
Since no religious community can revive the abbey, the Center culturel du Ouest was founded in 1975 by Olivier Guichard, president of the Pays de la Loire Regional Council. Henri Beaugé-Bérubé was appointed to it in 1976. The purpose of this association recognized for public utility is “the defense, development, animation and promotion of the abbey of Fontevraud”.
This association initially organizes heritage classes, artistic events, introductory courses in crafts, Gregorian chant and hosts conferences, mainly focused on England, architecture and choral singing.
From 1990, René Martin organizes concerts of sacred music.
The project “Villa Médicis du Numérique” initiated under the direction of Chantal Colleu-Dumont in 2001 extends to the concept of “Ideal City” implemented by Xavier Kawa-Topor, director of the abbey from 2005 onwards. site becomes a permanent place for debates, exhibitions, shows, residencies of artists especially in the field of animation cinema.
The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud, Western Cultural Center, is a member of the European Network of Cultural Encounter Centers (forty members at the beginning of the twenty-first century in Europe).
The Grand Moûtier
The abbey church
The construction of the church begins soon after the founding of the order in 1101. A first church is sketched and the construction of the apse begins. But the project aborts quickly: under the affluence of the faithful, one transforms the plans and one begins the construction of the current church. The lower parts of the choir and the transept are already strongly advanced around 1115 and consecrated in August 31, 1119 by Pope Calixte II. The high parts follow quickly. It was originally intended to cover the nave of a carpentry, but after 1119, the idea is abandoned in favor of a domed vault.
The abbey church of Fontevraud, under the name of Notre-Dame, is located north of the Grand-Moûtier monastery. It consists of a nave covered by four cupolas, a salient transept with two oriented chapels and a choir with ambulatory and three apsidioles. The building has a total length of 90 meters. It is built of tuffeau, a soft limestone, very present in the Saumurois, which allowed the extraction near the abbey, in underground quarries.
The apse of the choir with ambulatory of the church contrasts with the rest of the building by its architectural bias: it rises in height thanks to a dozen columns surmounted by slightly broken arches. There follows a frieze of blind arches, then high windows, alternately openworked and blind. The apse ends in height with a floor of upper windows. The ambulatory, delimited around the choir by the columns, opens on three chapels, two radiant and one axial. Each of the chapels has a bay, completing the abundant brightness of this part of the building.
The transept of the abbey, covered with a broken cradle vault, is very salient. The crossing of the transept is surmounted by a dome, much less impressive than that of the nave, whose pendants fall on engaged columns. The height under the cross reaches 23 meters. The two arms of the transept each open on an oriented chapel. There are up to eight openings on the North Arm, while the later developments of the Grand Moûtier have obstructed the openings of the South Arm.
The nave consists of four cupolas with a diameter of 10 meters each, delineating the four bays of the nave. It is an architectural loan to Aquitaine, which is found for example in the cathedral of Périgueux.
It was decorated by the sculptor Gervais I Delabarre who made there the tomb of Robert d’Arbrissel in 1655, then the sculptor Pierre Biardeau (1608-1671) succeeded him in this undertaking.
The cloister forms the center of the Grand-Moûtier Monastery. 59 meters long, it serves all the nerve centers of the monastic life: the abbey, the chapter house, the refectory, kitchens and dormitories.
The first cloister was built at the beginning of the 12th century. It is rebuilt in the sixteenth century, first by the south gallery in 1519 which is covered with a vault of warheads, low height. The veins of the vaults all fall back on historiated culs-de-lampe. The exterior of the southern gallery shows an evolution of style: between the thick buttresses, open semicircular geminate arches, separated from pilasters and adorned with a more classic decor. The other galleries were rebuilt in 1548. They are also vaulted in ribs, whose ribs fall on semi-engaged columns or culs-de-lampe of classic style. These three galleries are composed of semicircular arched openings whose pillars are adorned with classical pilasters. Between two arches, towards the interior of the courtyard, were built twin columns of ionic order surmounted by an entablature supporting either a slate roof or the upper floors. The wall separating the cloister from the abbey is decorated with a series of undecorated coffered arches.
The chapter house
The Chapter Room, or Chapter Room, is the room where the religious community meets daily. In the morning, it discusses the news of the abbey: admission to the novitiate, election, reception of personality, reading announcements or proclamations of the bishop or the pope. In the evening, we read a chapter of the rule and edifying texts. It is the most important place concerning the organization of the monastic life.
The present chapter house of Fontevraud was erected under the Abbey of Louise de Bourbon, between 1534 and 1575 from 1541. It consists of a vault of warheads with six bays falling on bases and on two columns, short and fine. It opens with a richly decorated portal and two bays geminated on both sides of it.
The paintings of the hall were made by Thomas Pot around 1565. They represent the Passion of Christ until the Assumption of the Virgin. Originally, Thomas Pot represents Renee (to the left of Jesus) and Louise of Bourbon (to the right of Jesus Christ) in the middle of the scenes of the New Testament crucifixion. Subsequently, other abbesses of Fontevraud are added to the different scenes. The paintings are heavily degraded or partially destroyed during the transformation of the room into a food store in the nineteenth century. The development of a kitchen in the community room contributes to the emergence of damaging moisture conditions. A first painting restoration campaign began in 1952 at the initiative of the Inspector of Historical Monuments, Pierre-Marie Auzas. In October 1952, the restaurateur Gaston Chauffrey described the paintings as “very sick”, but gave them, according to him, a “satisfactory aspect” and readability at the end of his work in June 1953. In 1969, Pierre-Marie Auzas became alarmed Once again damage caused by the leakage of a tank, noting that in places, “the stone is sprayed and the paint is peeling”. Several health assessments and examinations are set up to study the degradations and propose the appropriate restoration measures. The first restoration work began in June 1978 with the Crucifixion scene, and ended in 1984. But in 1986, there were detachments due to poor aging of the protective varnish. A new restoration campaign was launched in 1990. The paintings are now better documented. Restorers can rely on reproductions of portraits of the abbesses made at the initiative of François Roger de Gaignières in the seventeenth century. The restorations were completed in 1991.
The building was built between 1160 and 1170, at the southwest corner of the cloister, in the continuation of the refectory.
The kitchen contains eight apsidioles, five of which are still preserved. It is based on a square rising on each side in a slightly broken arc, completed by an octagon of which each angle consists of an engaged column. Each side of the octagon hosts an apse, each open three small bays and hosting a hood. Thanks to a system of horns, the broken arc square supports the central chimney.
The exact destination of the kitchen is debating. Eugène Viollet-le-Duc proposes, in his Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française, a theory on the evacuation of smoke by the different chimneys, starting from the principle that each absidiole was used as home. The art historian Michel Melot proposes as hypothesis the use of the building as a smoking room.
The chapel Saint-Benoit dates from the XII century and then serves as a chapel in the infirmary. It is of Romanesque style. The choir is then extended in a Gothic style. Under the abbey of Louise de Bourbon, the nave is separated in its upper part to arrange the apartment of the high prioress. Under the penitentiary administration, the building is transformed into a brewery.
Near the Grand Moûtier, the priory Saint-Lazare contained a community of nuns responsible for the supervision of leprous patients. There is nothing left of these early buildings and its organization remains unknown. The priory is rebuilt thanks to the gifts of Henry II Plantagenet, and the beginning of the work dates from the abbey of Mathilde d’Anjou (1149-1155), aunt of the king. The priory church is an architectural example of early Gothic Angevin.
Under the abbey of Louise de Boubon (1534-1575), various interventions are undertaken. The eighteenth century gives it its present appearance. At the end of the Ancien Régime, the priory serves only for sick or convalescent sisters. This small community enjoys a certain independence: “A nun presided at the administration, having under her orders some of her companions, her converses, servants, her kitchen, her table, in a word, holding house” as evidenced by François-Yves Bernard, a contemporary. The priory is transformed into an infirmary during the transformation of the abbey into a detention center. The priory is today a hotel-restaurant.
The buildings of the convent Saint-Jean-de-l’Habit have disappeared today. Following the Revolution and the expulsion of the last religious, the convent is totally abandoned and becomes a stone quarry. The ruins of the church are still visible in the mid-nineteenth century, before being permanently dismantled.
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.” This quote from Gandhi perfectly illustrates our philosophy of welcome at the Fontevraud Royal Abbey. Here, beyond just a range of services, we offer real hospitality to all our guests.
The tradition of hospitality runs in our veins at Fontevraud. The Rule of Saint Benedict, which inspired Fontevraud, gave great importance to this element (Chapter 53: ‘On the reception of guests). Today’s ambitions of hospitality at the Royal Abbey are even greater. To welcome, look after, and surprise our guests, this is the team’s dearest wish. Whether a guest at our hotel or restaurant, or a day visitor, everyone is welcomed, pampered, in the same way. Hospitality … the continuation of an ancient tradition at a site wide open to the world!