Pontlevoy Abbey

Pontlevoy, France

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 the Count of Blois. Allegedly, the Virgin dressed in white, appeared above the rolling deck and calmed the sea.

Geldiun endowed the abbey with enough revenue for Benedictine monks to build a huge church, dedicated to the White Virgin. From the east, it looks like a complete Gothic cathedral with flying buttresses and trefoil stone tracery in the windows of the radiating chapels. There is a gravel courtyard where it the nave should be.

The church was almost completely destroyed during the Hundred Years' War. The monks rebuilt the apse and choir but couldn't afford to replace the rest. Inside, on the wall behind the altar, there is a little 11th-century statue of the White Virgin with her Child in her arms. The child leans against her left shoulder. She presses his left hand to her heart. The naif style indicates it was done by a local mason rather than a professional sculptor. The monks ran a hospital here, with a sanctuary for lepers, until the 16th century. But by 1623, when Cardinal Richelieu was named abbot, the monks had abandoned their vows and the buildings were in ruins.

Richelieu repaired them and brought in six Benedictine monks from St. Maur. They started a seminary for the sons of the nobility and the rich bourgeoisie. Students came even from England. In 1776, Louis XVI turned the school into one of the 12 royal military academies of France; a huge cedar of Lebanon in the courtyard was planted in honor of his accession to the throne.

In the 19th century after The Revolution, the college became a private, secular institution, proud of its conservative tradition producing famous scholars, provincial officials, priests and soldiers. It was a boarding school; some families moved to Pontlevoy to be near their sons. They built large, elegant houses with steep, slate roofs, walled gardens and spiked wrought-iron fences that still grace the town. The huge 18th-century building - three stories high with a mansard roof - resembles those government ministry buildings around the Palais Bourbon in Paris. The college closed for a period of time after the Second World War.

The previous owner of the abbey and the college was the Marquis du Vibraye, a descendant of Gelduin, allowed Pontlevoy to open a municipal museum on the third floor. The first two rooms displayed a collection of 19th- and early 20th- century cards advertising Poulain Chocolates. The company, founded by Auguste Poulain, who was born in Pontlevoy in 1815, is still a major manufacturer in Blois. Poulain was a pioneer of modern advertising. Each year his company issued a new series of brightly colored cards commemorating notable men (including Benjamin Franklin) with flowers and illustrations of fairy tales. They were collected and traded throughout Touraine in the 19th century.

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Details

Founded: 1034
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Birth of Capetian dynasty (France)

More Information

www.abbeyofpontlevoy.com

Rating

4.2/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Jean Francois Lefebvre (20 months ago)
Not much to visit.
Benoit Vrillon (21 months ago)
Very pretty village The abbey was closed but a tour of the village is worth a detour
Alexandre Chanson (2 years ago)
Unfortunately it's only opened for visits during "les journées du patrimoine" in september.
David Hellyn (2 years ago)
It is very large and very impressive, pity it is not open to visit. A bit of a hidden gem as is the village.
Ralph Ankri (2 years ago)
A magical place but apparently abandoned for a long time, a Catholic school should settle there at the start of the school year. Every year the abbey hosts the festival of quality classical and jazz music
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