Fleury Abbey (Floriacum), founded about 640, is one of the most celebrated Benedictine monasteries of Western Europe. It possesses the relics of St. Benedict of Nursia. Today the abbey has over forty monks and is headed by the abbot Etienne Ricaud. Fleury abbey had originally two churches, another one dedicated to St. Peter"s and another to Blessed Virgin. The church of St. Peter was demolished in the 19th century; the existing church dedicated to the Virgin pre-existed the founding of the monastery.
After the ravages of the Normans, who penetrated via the Loire and burned the monastery buildings, which suffered a catastrophic fire in 1026, Blessed Virgin" church became the great late 11th century Romanesque basilica, which occasioned the erection of a great tower, that was intended as the west front of the abbey church, which was completed in 1218. The tower of Abbot Gauzlin, resting on fifty columns, forms a unique porch. The Carolingian style church is about three hundred feet long, its transept one hundred and forty feet. The choir of the church contains the tomb of a French monarch, Philip I of France, buried there in 1108. Of the mediaeval abbey"s buildings, only this basilica survives in the modern monastery.
The 17th century Benedictine scholar Jean Mabillon accepted the traditional founding of Fleury as by Leodebaldus, abbot of St-Aignan (Orléans) about 640, in the existing Gallo-Roman villa of Floriacum, in the Vallis Aurea, the 'Golden Valley'. This was the spot selected by the Abbot of St-Aignan for his Benedictine foundation. Rigomarus was its first abbot. The most famous of the Merovingian abbots was St. Mommolus, who effected the translation of the relics there of Benedict of Nursia. The monastery underwent a season of reform in its monastic life, about 930, along the lines first laid out at Cluny. The monastery enjoyed the patronage of the Carolingian dynasty for generations; it was also central to the political ambitions of the Robertian house descended from Robert I of France, several of whom had held the title Duke of the Franks. The monk of Fleury named Helgaud (died ca 1068), was chaplain to King Robert II and wrote a brief Epitoma vitae Roberti regis. Fleury had particular significance in lending legitimacy to its patrons. Although royal and ducal patronage had material advantages, there was also a price to be paid in terms of monastic autonomy when the ducal candidate conflicted with the choice of the monastic community.Theodulphus, bishop of Orléans established at Fleury a school for young noblemen recommended there by Charlemagne. By the mid-19th century its library was one of the most comprehensive ever assembled in the West, and scholars such as Lupus of Ferrières (d. 862) traveled there to consult its texts. Later under St. Abbo of Fleury (abbot 988-1004), head of the reformed abbey school, Fleury enjoyed a second golden age; it kept up close relations with abbeys in England. Later, among the non-resident abbots in commendam were Cardinals Odet de Coligny and Antoine Sanguin in the reign of François I and Cardinal Richelieu.
Like all Benedictine monasteries in France, the community was scattered by the French revolution. Nevertheless, a Benedictine presence remained continually: the parish was held by a monk disguised as a secular priest, and there were numerous attempts to restore the monastery throughout the 19th century. Finally, in 1944, the community (which had been resident at Pierre-qui-Vire) was restored to the abbey, which was rebuilt as a member of the Subiaco Congregation. The monastery is remembered each day at Evensong in Winchester Cathedral with an additional short said prayer at the conclusion of The Responses - The Fleury Prayer.
Fleury is reputed to contain the relics of St. Benedict of Nursia, the father of Western monasticism, a claim disputed by the monks of Monte Cassino. Mommolus, the second Abbot of Fleury, is said to have effected their transfer when that abbey fell into decay after the ravages of the Lombards in the seventh century. Benedict"s relics, and the Miracula S. Benedicti developed over three centuries by five monks of Fleury, including Andreas of Fleury (c.1043), attracted pilgrims, bringing wealth and fame. The monks of Monte Cassino impugned the claims of Fleury, but without ever showing any relics to make good their contention that they possess the body of the founder.References:
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