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.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.