Monasteries in France

Pontlevoy Abbey

The Benedictian Abbey of Pontlevoy (Abbaye de Pontlevoy) was established in 1034. It made the town an important commercial and cultural center. A local knight named Gelduin de Chaumont founded to fulfill a vow. It is believed that Gelduin's boat was caught in a storm on the way back from a Crusade in the Holy Land. He prayed to the Virgin for help, promising to build Her a church in Pontlevoy, which he held as a vassal of ...
Founded: 1034 | Location: Pontlevoy, France

Saorge Monastery

Saorge was a stronghold of strategic significance defending the road between Nice and Turin via the Col de Tende mountain pass. Recollect Franciscan monks founded a monastery there in 1633, at the time of the Catholic Reformation. Today it overlooks the village and waterfalls of La Roya at the gateway to Mercantour. The cloister and the refectory contain examples of exceptional painted decoration dating from the 17th and ...
Founded: 1633 | Location: Saorge, France

Fontcaude Abbey

The Abbaye de Fontcaude is a 12th century abbey in Cazedarnes, 20 km from Beziers. Ruined after the Revolution, the abbay has been an amazing restoration. It now offers its looks roman abbey, cloister, oil mill, museum of Gothic sculptures and a bell foundry from 12th century.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Cazedarnes, France

Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives Abbey

The Abbey Church of Saint-Pierre-sur-Diveswas was rebuilt in the 12th century and 13th centuries and restored and modified in the 16th and 17th centuries, replacing the former abbey church built in 1011 by William the Conqueror"s aunt, Countess Lesceline. The church was entirely restored in the 16th century. By that time it got its general current appearance: a long main nave with two aisles and five radiating chapel ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives, France

La Lucerne Abbey

La Lucerne Abbey (Abbaye Sainte-Trinité de La Lucerne) was founded in 1143 by Hasculf de Subligny, son of Othoerne, the tutor of William Adelin, both of whom perished in the White Ship disaster of 1120, and later had the support of the English crown. The new monastery was settled from Dommartin Abbey near Hesdin. The foundation stone of the permanent buildings was laid in 1164 by Achard of St. Victor, who was later ...
Founded: 1143 | Location: La Lucerne-d'Outremer, France

Saint-Sever-de-Rustan Abbey

The Abbey of Saint-Sever-de-Rustan is one of the most exciting architectural Hautes-Pyrenees. In Gallo-Roman origin, the site hosts an early Benedictine abbey. It promotes the birth of the fortified town which is fast becoming the capital of Rustan. The ancient Romanesque Abbey reaches us, over the years, such reconstructions of destruction in a ship stranded on the shores of Arros. All major architectural styles of the p ...
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Saint-Sever-de-Rustan, France

Sainte-Gauburge Priory

The Sainte-Gaubuge priory was originally a hamlet, which is very well preserved. All the houses are located around the priory. The church building dates from the 13th, 15th and 18th century. The canons of St. Denis are at the origin of the most beautiful architecture sites. Rich carved decorations (13th and 15th century), the house of the prior has magnificent chimneys listed (15th century), and the vaults (13th century) ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Saint-Cyr-la-Rosière, France

Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre Abbey

The Church of Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre is one of the oldest in the region, as it was formerly a Benedictine abbey founded in the early 11th century. Throughout the centuries it has undergone many transformations but also suffered major damage during the religious wars of the 16th century and the earthquake of 1660. Far-reaching changes were made between the 12th and 13th centuries, inspired by the Romanesque style. This is w ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre, France

Relec Abbey Ruins

The Abbaye du Relec was founded in 1132. It had an innovative hydraulic mechanism for irrigating the gardens and pumping water through the buildings. It also made a significant contribution to the local economy by developing the lands called La Quévaise. Today There is a large Romanesque church, vestiges of cloisters, two lakes, a pathway lined with trees, a monumental fountain and ancient gardens surrounded by dee ...
Founded: 1132 | Location: Plounéour-Ménez, France

Combelongue Abbey

The abbey of Combelongue was founded in 1138 by Arnauld d"Austria, count of Pallars for one of his sons Antoine, who became the first abbot. It was on the way of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela which made the abbey prosperous until the 14th century. From 1446 the abbey began to decline. It was affected by the Black Death (1353-1355) and damaged during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religi ...
Founded: 1138 | Location: Rimont, France

Fontgombault Abbey

Fontgombault Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Fontgombault) is a Benedictine monastery of the Solesmes Congregation. In 1091 Pierre de l'Étoile founded a Benedictine monastery on the banks of the Creuse River, near the spring or fount of Gombaud. In the 12th and 13th centuries the abbey experienced vigorous growth and established twenty or so priories. In the 15th century the abbots of Fontgombault had numerous ponds excavate ...
Founded: 1091 | Location: Fontgombault, France

Beaulieu-lès-Loches Abbey

A great abbey church named Belli Locus dedicated to the Holy Sepulchre was founded in the early 11th century by Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou, who is buried in the chancel. In 1011 Pope Sergius IV donated some relics of Saints Chrysanthus and Daria and Fulk himself a piece of the Holy Sepulchre he stole from his visit to Jerusalem to the abbey. The pope settled a dispute over the abbey's consecration with the Archbishop of T ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Beaulieu-lès-Loches, France

Valmont Abbey

Valmont Abbey (Notre-Dame-du-Pré de Valmont) was a Benedictine abbey founded in 1169 by Nicolas d"Estouteville with Benedictines split off from Hambye Abbey. It never held more than 25 monks and was destroyed and rebuilt several times, with the abbey church only truly completed in the 16th century – countess Marie II of Saint-Pol is buried in it. The abbey buildings were built from 1678 to 1782 under Lo ...
Founded: 1169 | Location: Valmont, France

La Clarté-Dieu Abbey

The Abbey of La Clarté-Dieu was a Cistercian monastery. The abbey was founded in 1239 by the executors of Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, as one of a pair, the other being Netley Abbey in Hampshire, England. The bishop had conceived the idea of founding a pair of monasteries some years before and had begun collecting the necessary endowments for them, but his death in 1238 prevented him from completing ...
Founded: 1239 | Location: Eaunes, France

Saint-Evroul Abbey Ruins

The Abbey of Saint-Evroul is a former Benedictine abbey, today in ruins. Its name refers to its founder, Ebrulf (Evroul), who founded a hermitage in the forest of Ouche around 560. The abbey was rebuilt around 1000. Robert de Grantmesnil served as abbot of Saint-Evroul, which he helped restore in 1050. He had become a monk at Saint-Evroul before becoming its abbot. Orderic Vitalis entered the abbey as a young boy and late ...
Founded: c. 1000 | Location: Saint-Evroult-Notre-Dame-du-Bois, France

Fontaine-Guérard Abbey

At the beginning of the 12th century, there was a simple priory on the site of current abbey. Around 1190, Robert, Earl of Leicester founded the Abbey of Fontaine-Guérard. The nuns joined the order of Cîteaux in 1207 as Daughter-abbey of Clairvaux, but did not receive Abbey status until 1253. By this date, the buildings we see here were complete; the church was consecrated in 1218. Sold for the “national ...
Founded: 1190 | Location: Radepont, France

Grestain Abbey

Grestain Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Grestain) was an 11th century Benedictine monastery. Closely associated with the family of William, Duke of Normandy, the abbey was instrumental in the Normans taking control over the Catholic Church in England in the centuries following the Norman Conquest of England, establishing new churches and priories in England, and Abbots of Grestain ordained many English priests. Many churches ...
Founded: 1050 | Location: Fatouville-Grestain, France

Bonnefont Abbey

Bonnefont Abbey was founded in 1136 or 1137 and was a daughter monastery of Morimond Abbey. The land for monastery was donated by the Countess of Montpezat. During the French Revolution the abbey was dissolved. Today only the tower from the 15th century, the gatehouse and parts of the wing from the 13th century are preserved. The church has been completely abandoned since 1856.
Founded: 1136 | Location: Proupiary, France

Boulbonne Abbey

Boulbonne Abbey was first founded in 1129 about 14km from its current location. It was burned down and demolished during the Wars of Religion in 1567 by Huguenots. The reconstruction of the abbey on its current site started in 1632. The church was consecrated in 1742. After the French Revolution most of the buildings have disappeared, but there are still some facades, the entrance brick portal, the chapter house, ...
Founded: 1632 | Location: Cintegabelle, France

Valognes Abbey

In 1623, Jean de Raval, Lord Tourlaville, and his wife Madeleine de la Vigne offered de la Vigne"s cousin enough money to establish a monastery in Valognes that de la Vigne"s would become the first abbess or 'superior'. The following year, the Bishop of Séez gave permission for a group of nuns to join the new abbey. Plague prevented the nuns from taking up their new posts and construction did n ...
Founded: 1631 | Location: Valognes, 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.