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 Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.