Monasteries in France

Mondaye Abbey

In the mid-12th century, a priest named Turstin withdrew to a wooded Norman hill to live as a hermit, where he was quickly joined by a circle of followers. When Turstin died in 1200, the bishop of Bayeux established the community under the Rule of St. Augustine. Turstin's brother-in-law Raoul de Percy donated land for the abbey. Over the following years, the abbey continued to receive donation from nobility and farmers. A ...
Founded: 1200 | Location: Juaye-Mondaye, France

Monastir del Camp

Monastir del Camp ("The Monastery Camp") was, according a legend, founded by the request of Charlemagne after his victory over the Saracens in 785. Historically, the Priory of Monastir del Camp was founded in 1116 by the Augustine canons to the premises of Artal II , bishop of Elne. Thereafter, the priory became a Benedictine monastery, which will remain in operation until 1786.
Founded: 1116 | Location: Passa, France

Mont Saint-Eloi Abbey Ruins

On a hill overlooking Arras stand the remains of two towers which bear testament not only to the once-powerful Mont-Saint-Eloi Abbey. According to legend the abbey was established in the 7th century by Saint Vindicianus, a disciple of Saint Eligius, and by the Middle Ages it had become a powerful religious centre; however the turbulent times of the Revolution saw its walls pillaged for their stone. All that survived were ...
Founded: 600-700 AD | Location: Mont-Saint-Éloi, France

Marcevol Priory

Marcevol Priory is situated at an altitude of 500 metres on a plateau overlooking the Tet Valley. The Priory was built in the 12th century by the religious order of Saint Sepulchre. In 1129 the Bishop of Elne donated them the small church, as well as some surrounding out-buildings. These were monks following the rules of Saint Augustine. The Order of Saint Sepulchre was founded in 1099 after the crusades and the conquest ...
Founded: 1129 | Location: Arboussols, France

Saint-Gildas de Rhuys Abbey

The Abbey of Saint-Gildas is dedicated to St. Gildas (c. 500–570) who was a British historian and cleric. He is one of the best-documented figures of the Christian church in the British Isles during this period. According a legend Gildas established the abbey, but there are no written evidences. Buildings were destroyed by Norman raids in the 10th century. The first known record dates from 1008 when the abbey was r ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys, France

Graville Abbey

The first mention of Graville Abbey was in the 9th century. Considered to be a masterpiece of the Romanesque art in Normandy, the abbey underwent several periods of construction since the 11th century. The church"s nave and transept date from the Romanesque period. Guillaume Malet de Graville, who was victorious during the Hastings battle alongside William the Conqueror, as well as his descendants, invested their for ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Le Havre, France

St-Florent-le-Vieil Abbey

The abbey of St-Florent-le-Vieil was originally established already in the 6th century. It was a strong and wealthy abbey until attacked by Normans several times between 850-853. The abbey was left to decay over centuries until 1637 when monks restored it. It was damaged again during the French Revolution 1790-1793.
Founded: 14th century | Location: Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, France

Mortemer Abbey Ruins

Mortemer Abbey was originally built in 1134 on land gifted to the Cistercians by Henry I of England. The stagnant water of the drainage lake, dug out by the monks to dry up the marshy land around the quick running Fouillebroc stream, was called 'dead mere', 'dead pond' - in modern French 'morte mare' - and gave the monastery its name. The monks constructed what was then one of the largest Ci ...
Founded: 1134 | Location: Lisors, France

Jouarre Abbey

Jouarre Abbey was traditionally founded around 630 AD by the Abbess Theodochilde or Telchilde. She was inspired by the visit of St. Columban, the travelling Irish monk who inspired monastic institution-building in the early seventh century. As part of its Celtic heritage, Jouarre was established as a double community of monks as well as nuns, both under the rule of the abbess, who in 1225 was granted immunity from interfe ...
Founded: 630 AD | Location: Jouarre, France

Escaladieu Abbey

Escaladieu Abbey was a Cistercian abbey located in the French commune of Bonnemazon. Its name derives from the Latin Scala Dei ('ladder of God'). The abbey was founded in 1142 and became an important pilgrimage stop on the Way of St. James en route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The abbey is situated at the confluence of the Luz and the Arros rivers near the Château de Mauvezin ...
Founded: 1142 | Location: Bonnemazon, France

Lessay Abbey

It is not exactly known when the Abbaye de Sainte-Trinité in Lessay was established; other historians date it to 1056, Cologne University to 1105. The vaults of the church, built around 1100 are however probably the oldest in Normandy. The abbey flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries, but during the Hundred Years' War in 1356 it was burned and looted. The nave and tower were badly damaged and restored in 1385. Lessay ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Lessay, France

Bon-Repos Abbey

The Bon-Repos Abbey was founded by Viscount Alain III de Rohan in c. 1184. According to legend, he was asked to build it by the Virgin Mary; she appeared to him in a dream when he fell asleep on this spot after a hard day’s hunting in the Quénécan Forest. After a tumultuous history, which included being burnt down by the Chouans (Royalists) in 1795, the abbey fell into ruin until it was rescued in 1986 ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Saint-Gelven, France

Abbaye Blanche

The Abbaye Blanche ('White Abbey'), was a nunnery founded in 1112 in Mortain. Shortly after establishing an abbey for men called Holy Trinity of Savigny, Saint Vitalis, founder of the monastic order of Savigny, set up the Abbaye Blanche for women. The church is built on a Latin cross floorplan of a central nave and a wide transept. The style is Early Gothic, though unfortunately only the chapter house, cellar an ...
Founded: 1112 | Location: Mortain, France

Abbey of Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan

The Abbey of Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan was a Benedictine abbey in the commune of Saint-Savin and one of the most important religious centres in the County of Bigorre. The abbey dates at least from the 10th century, and it was built by order of Charlemagne on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman fortress. In 841, the abbey was looted and burnt by the Normans, and previously by the Saracens. In 945, Count Raymond I ...
Founded: 10th century | Location: Saint-Savin, France

Saint-Michel de Grandmont Priory

Saint-Michel de Grandmont Priory was built in the 12th century and is one of the best-preserved of the 160 Grandmontine monasteries. It is a religious order, founded by Étienne of Thiers, son of Viscount of Thiers from the Auvergne. It was known to be one of the strictest, and austere orders of the Middle Ages. There was no hierarchy, with no archives, and no heating. The monks walked with bare feet, in perpetual silenc ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Saint-Privat, France

Bonport Abbey

The abbey of our Lady of Bonport was founded in 1189 by Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Duke of Normandy. According to legend, the King was in peril on the river Seine and made a vow that if he arrived safely (in French à Bonport) on the other bank of the river, he would found a monastery on that side. The abbey was built shortly afterwards with the help of local lords and was damaged and restored severa ...
Founded: 1189 | Location: Pont-de-l'Arche, France

Cassan Abbey

The Augustinian priory here was founded in 1080, on land donated by the Alquier noble family of Béziers.  A new church was consecrated in 1115. Numerous relics were collected by the abbey and it served as cemetery to the nobility of the region. The lands owned by the priory extended to 75 villages. Pope Innocent III in the context of the crusade against the Cathars exempted the priory from control by the bishops of Béz ...
Founded: 18th century | Location: Roujan, France

Bonneval Abbey

Bonneval Abbey was founded as a monastery of Cistercian monks in Le Cayrol. Bonneval Abbey was founded in 1147 by Cistercian monks from Mazan Abbey, in Rouergue. Its name means 'good valley', a typical Cistercian name. Bonneval quickly became a rich and powerful abbey, owning extensive estates throughout the country. In the mid-14th century it suffered from the Black Death and underwent much damage and loss ...
Founded: 1147 | Location: Le Cayrol, France

Montivilliers Abbey

The Abbey Church of Notre-Dame, sometimes referred to as 'Montivilliers Abbey' dates back to 684, although it was destroyed a Viking raid in 850, and rebuilt as a church in both the Romanesque and Gothic styles. It fell into decline by the late 1700's. Its decline went up to the French revolution at the end of the 18th century when it was closed and sold. Fortunately the abbey was not destroyed and was later bought back b ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Montivilliers, France

Lonlay Abbey

Founded in c. 1020 by Guillaume de Bellême known as 'Talvas', Lonlay Abbey was originally occupied by the monks of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire. Interpolated between the Gothic choir and porch, there are no more remains of the Romanesque edifice than the transept whose lower and middle sections show some signs of fishbone bonding, and date back to the end of the 11th century or beginning of the 12th centur ...
Founded: c. 1020 | Location: Lonlay-l'Abbaye, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.