Vaux-de-Cernay Abbey was founded in 1118 when Simon de Neauffle and his wife Eve donated the land for this foundation to the monks of Savigny Abbey, in order to have a monastery built in honour of the Mother of God and Saint John the Baptist. Vital, Abbot of Savigny, accepted their offer, and sent a group of monks under the direction of Arnaud, who became their first abbot. Besides the founders, others of the nobility came to the aid of the new Savigniac community.
As soon as the abbey was well established, many postulants were admitted, thus making possible in 1137 the foundation of Le Breuil-Benoît Abbey in the Diocese of Evreux. In 1148 Vaux-de-Cernay, together with the entire Congregation of Savigny, entered the Order of Cîteaux and became an affiliation of Clairvaux Abbey. From this time on they prospered, building a church in the simple Cistercian style. Over time, additional buildings were constructed, as well as a mill, and a fish farm.
Many of its abbots became well known. Andrew, the fourth, died as Bishop of Arras. Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay, the sixth, was delegated by the General Chapter to accompany the Fourth Crusade in 1203. Three years later he was one of the principal figures in the Albigensian Crusade, which fought against the Cathars. In recognition of his service he was made Bishop of Carcassonne (1211) and is commemorated in the Cistercian Menology. His nephew Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay, also a monk of the abbey, accompanied him on this crusade, and left a chronicle of the Cathars and the war against them.
It was under Thomas, Peter's successor, that Porrois Abbey, a Cistercian nunnery, later renamed the Abbey of Port-Royal, was founded and placed under the direction of the abbots of Vaux-de-Cernay. The ninth abbot, Thibault de Marley (1235-47), a descendant of the Montmorency family, was canonized.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century the monastery began losing its fervour, both on account of its wealth and because of the disturbed state of the Île-de-France during the Hundred Years' War. After the introduction of commendatory abbots in 1542 there was little left of the monastic community beyond the name. In the seventeenth century the community was restored in spirit by embracing the Reform of the Strict Observance as promoted by Denis Largentier. During this time the commendatory abbot was John Casimir, King of Poland. The monastery was suppressed in 1791 during the French Revolution and its members (twelve priests) were dispersed.
The buildings, after passing through various hands, were partly restored after the site was bought by Charlotte de Rothschild in the 1880s, who saved the ruins of the church and part of the buildings, fully restoring the abbey.
Today the buildings are used as a hotel with a capacity for 1,200 persons, complete with restaurant and heliport, but still using the nearby spring as the monks did centuries before.References:
The moated castle at Beersel is one of the few exceptionally well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Belgium. It remains pretty much as it must have appeared in the 15th century. Remarkably, it was never converted into a fortified mansion. A visitor is able to experience at first-hand how it must have felt to live in a heavily fortified castle in the Middle Ages.
The castle was built in around 1420 as a means of defence on the outer reaches of Brussels. The tall, dense walls and towers were intended to hold any besiegers at bay. The moat and the marshy ground along its eastern, southern and western edges made any attack a formidable proposition. For that reason, any attackers would have chosen its weaker northern defences where the castle adjoins higher lying ground. But the castle was only taken and destroyed on one occasion in 1489, by the inhabitants of Brussels who were in rebellion against Maximilian of Austria.
After being stormed and plundered by the rebels it was partially rebuilt. The pointed roofs and stepped gables are features which have survived this period. The reconstruction explains why two periods can be identified in the fabric of the edifice, particularly on the outside.
The red Brabant sandstone surrounds of the embrasures, now more or less all bricked up, are characteristic of the 15th century. The other embrasures, edged with white sandstone, date from the end of the 15th century. They were intended for setting up the artillery fire. The merlons too are in white sandstone. The year 1617 can be clearly seen in the foundation support on the first tower. This refers to restorations carried out at the time by the Arenberg family.
Nowadays, the castle is dominated by three massive towers. The means of defence follow the classic pattern: a wide, deep moat surrounding the castle, a drawbridge, merlons on the towers, embrasures in the walls and in the towers, at more or less regular intervals, and machiolations. Circular, projecting towers ensured that attacks from the side could be thwarted. If the enemy were to penetrate the outer wall, each tower could be defended from embrasures facing onto the inner courtyard.
The second and third towers are flanked by watchtowers from which shots could be fired directly below. Between the second and third tower are two openings in the walkway on the wall. It is not clear what these were used for. Were these holes used for the disposing of rubbish, or escape routes. The windows on the exterior are narrow and low. All light entering comes from the interior. The few larger windows on the exterior date from a later period. It is most probable that the third tower - the highest - was used as a watchtower.