Fontevraud Abbey is a religious building hosting a cultural centre since 1975, the Centre Culturel de l'Ouest. It was founded by the itinerant reforming preacher Robert of Arbrissel, who had just created a new order, the Order of Fontevrault. The first permanent structures were built between 1110 and 1119.

Philippa of Toulouse persuaded her husband William IX, Duke of Aquitaine to grant Robert of Abrissel land in Northern Poitou to establish a religious community dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The abbey was founded in 1100 and became a double monastery, with both monks and nuns on the same site. An international success, the order established several "Fontevrist" abbeys set up in England. Robert of Arbrissel declared that the leader of the order should always be a woman and appointed Petronille de Chemilléas the first abbess. She was succeeded by Matilda of Anjou, the aunt of Henry II of England. This was the start of a position that attracted many rich and noble abbesses over the years, including members of the French Bourbon royal family. It also became a refuge for battered women and penitent prostitutes, and housed a leper hospital and a home for aged religious.

In the early years the Plantagenets were great benefactors of the abbey and while Isabella d'Anjou was abbess, Henry II's widow Eleanor of Aquitaine became a nun there. Louise de Bourbon left her crest on many of the alterations she made during her term of office.

During the French Revolution, the order was dissolved. The last abbess, Madame d'Antin, died in poverty in Paris. In 1792 a Revolutionary decree ordered evacuation of all monasteries. The abbey later became a prison from 1804 to 1963, in which year it was given to the French Ministry of Culture.

The abbey was originally the site of the graves of King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their son King Richard I of England, their daughter Joan, their grandson Raymond VII of Toulouse, and Isabella of Angoulême, wife of Henry and Eleanor's son King John. However, there is no remaining corporal presence of Henry, Eleanor, Richard, or the others on the site. Their remains were possibly destroyed during the French Revolution.

Henriette Louise de Bourbon, granddaughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, grew up here. Princess Thérèse of France, daughter of Louis XV, is also buried there.

Fontevraud Abbey is situated in the Loire Valley, an UNESCO World Heritage Site between Chalonnes-sur-Loire and Sully-sur-Loire, and is within the Loire-Anjou-Touraine French regional natural park.

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Details

Founded: 1110
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Birth of Capetian dynasty (France)

Rating

4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Lindsay Jones (3 years ago)
Part of French/ English culture. An amazing place.
Scott Medley (3 years ago)
Historical buildings which have been restored impeccably. Its much more of an architectural restoration than a historical one in that they've not tried to recreate the interiors. For some, this it's a bit clinical and immaculate but for me it shows just how the buildings would have been at the height of the abbey's powers.
N Goodall (3 years ago)
Superbly executed visitor experience that informs how the secrets of this most important abbey were yielded up through great archeological work.
Paul Bricknell (3 years ago)
Sometimes you wonder how a place like this has been under the radar for so long. An astonishing history from its foundation in 1101 by a man with a radical, revolutionary concept for a community. So much restoration work has been completed and more yet to complete the main structure. We have listed it for a return visit in a couple of years in the hope the work is finished.
Joseph CHOTARD (3 years ago)
It's an incredible place which you should definitely visit if you're in the area. Expect to spend at least 4 hours there if you want to truly understand everything. You can, of course, spend more time there as their are plenty of things to see. Finally, there are a few art installations spread throughout the abbey which, even though they have nothing to do with the abbey, are interesting.
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