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

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Ewa S. (4 months ago)
Interesting Abbey by its history - especially the part where it was converted to a prison. Very well maintained, with special expositions, some coffee place outside, wine bar, hotel and upscale restaurant (1* Michelin). English translations were rare. Visit time anywhere from 1,5h to 2h at least. Parking nearby, free of charge.
Vickie Hamilton-Barr (5 months ago)
Main reason for visiting was to see the effigies of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard I (and Isabella of France). Enjoyed the large screens which had information in English as well. Information about the nuns who lived there and their daily lives. And about the Abbey as a prison. There was more there than I expected. The terrace cafe had about 4 choices if baguette. No vegan options and the vegetarian baguette option had sold out. Typical. A couple of salads available. I had the goats cheese one which was OK. Cookies, pretzels and muffins also on offer. The museum with the modern artwork was OK for a wander around.
Alex Cheyne (6 months ago)
Really interesting but not at all what I expected. Beyond the four sarcofogi for Henry II, his wife, Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Acquitaine, there isn't that much religious content. Instead there is quite of a bit of post revolution history, when the abbey was used as a prison. Architecturally, the highlight is the kitchens. There is an attached art gallery, which I didn't visit.
Alison Barnes (6 months ago)
Beautiful Gothic Abbey with a pretty good Modern art museum also. There was a Monet exhibition when I visited with friends; this was exceptional!! Lovely grounds, Abbey is well maintained and preserved. Some interpretation is in English, but this is inconsistent throughout. The history about the abbey being a prison etc was interesting too! Cafe in the grounds is good value, and there is good ice cream shop just outside the gates. Recommend a visit if you’re in the area.
Kristen Murphy (7 months ago)
Incredible historic site alongside a hotel and a Michelin starred restaurant situated in one of the smaller priories. If you're a hotel guest, you're able to amble along the property and visit the historic sites.
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