Le Thoronet Abbey, sited between the towns of Draguignan and Brignoles, is one of the best examples of the spirit of the Cistercian order. Even the acoustics of the church imposed a certain discipline upon the monks; because of the stone walls, which created a long echo, the monks were forced to sing slowly and perfectly together.
The monks move from Floriéges to Le Thoronet around 1176 and founded a new monastery to the lands donated to Cistercians few decades earlier. The entire monastery was built at once, which helps explain its unusual architectural unity. The church was probably built first, at the end of the 12th century, followed by the rest of the monastery in the early 13th century.
In the 13th century, there were no more than twenty-five monks in the monastery, but money came in from donations, and the Abbey owned extensive lands between upper Provence and the Mediterranean coast. The most important industry for the monastery was raising cattle and sheep.
By the 14th century, the monastery was in decline. In 1328, the Abbot accused his own monks of trying to rob the local villagers, being only a few years after the Great Famine. In 1348, Provence was devastated again, this time by the Black Plague which further reduced the population. By 1433, there were only four monks living at Le Thoronet.
By the 16th century, while the abbey church was maintained, the other buildings were largely in ruins. The monastery was probably abandoned for a time during the Wars of Religion.
In the 18th century, the abbot decided the order's rules were too strict, and added decorative features, such as statues, a fountain. and an avenue of chestnut trees. The Abbey was deeply in debt, and in 1785, the abbot, who lived in Bourges, declared bankruptcy. Le Thoronet was deconsecrated in 1785, and the seven remaining monks moved to other churches or monasteries. The building was to be sold in 1791, but the state officials in charge of the sale declared that the church, cemetery, fountain and row of chestnut trees were 'treasures of art and architecture', which should remain 'the Property of the Nation.' The rest of the monastery buildings and lands were sold.
In 1840, the ruined buildings came to the attention of Prosper Merimée, a writer and the first official inspector of monuments. It was entered onto the first list of French Monuments historiques, and restoration of the church and bell tower began in 1841. In 1854 the state bought the cloister, chapter-house, courtyard and dormitory, and in 1938, bought the remaining parts of the monastery still in private ownership.References: