Romainmôtier Priory is a former Cluniac priory founded around 450 AD by Romanus of Condat. The monastery church of Romainmôtier is one of the most important examples of Cluniac Romanesque art in Switzerland.
Excavations carried out in 1905-15 discovered traces of a church dating from the 5th century, which confirmed this early date. In the 6th century, there is a record of an abbot Florianus who was abbas ex monasterio de Romeno, which is probably a reference to Romainmôtier.
The early monastery fell into disrepair and was rebuilt by Duke Chramnelenus. This rebuilt monastery was placed under the monastic rule of Saint Columbanus by 642. The 5th-century church was enlarged and in the 7th century a second church was built with a rectangular choir. The second church was built on the south side of the first. Pope Stephen II visited the monastery in 753 while traveling for a meeting with Pepin the Short and according to tradition consecrated the churches of Saints Peter and Paul.
In the 9th century Romainmôtier saw another period of decline. Lay abbots took possession of the monastery. In 888, the Guelph King Rudolf I of Burgundy gave the priory and its lands to his sister Adelheid, the wife of the Duke of Burgundy, Richard II. On 14 June 928/929, Adelaide gave the monastery and its lands to Cluny Abbey. Under Cluny Abbey, Romainmôtier Priory experienced its third golden age.
Abbot Odilo of Cluny, who resided more than once in Romainmôtier, had the present church built at the end of the 10th century. This church was modeled after the second church of Cluny Abbey. At the beginning of the 12th century, the church was modified by the construction of an ornate narthex and in the 13th century of a gatehouse. The last modifications were made to the church in 1445.
After a financial crisis in the 14th century, the monastery recovered and reached the height of its power at the end of the 14th and early 15th century. In the mid-15th century it passed into the secular hands of the Savoy dynasty and their associates. The income of the abbey became a source of personal income and the monastic rules were less and less respected. When the Protestant Reformation arrived (1536), the monastery was already on the decline. In the 14th century about twenty monks still lived in the priory. By the 16th century it was about ten.
Despite the protests of Fribourg, Bern secularized the priory on 27 January 1537. The priory church, which was now used for Reformed service, was damaged and rebuilt. The Prior's House was converted into a castle for the Bernese Vogt and the remaining buildings were rented or sold. Only some of the more distant properties escaped being taken by Bern. Some monks settled in Vaux-et-Chantegrue and created a simple countryside priory, which was abolished during the French Revolution. The priory buildings were restored in 1899-1915 and again in 1992-2000.
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).