Bonmont Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery in Chéserex. The abbey was founded between 1110 and 1120. The oldest surviving document mentioning the abbey is a deed of gift from the lords of Divonne and Gingins in 1131.
In 1131, the foundation stone of the abbey church was laid. Construction continued until the end of the 12th century. The church was built during the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture and includes elements of both styles. The original architecture was kept simple and sober, according to the strict rules of the Benedictine Order and in accordance with the desires of the Cistercians. However, the simple design of the church and the simplicity of monastic life were quickly replaced by wealth. Numerous donations enlarged the possessions of the abbey and created ties between the monks and the local nobility. The area owned by the abbey stretched from the foot of the Jura to the Côte de Nyon and up to Aubonne. Under the protection of the House of Savoy in the 13th century, Bonmont Abbey was one of the richest monasteries in the Lake Geneva area.
As the worldly wealth of the abbey increased, the strict rules of the Cistercians loosened. From the 14th century the church was decorated in vibrant colors, ocher yellow or black floral motifs, and also paintings, in disregard of the old rule that churches interiors should be covered in white lime plaster only. There was also a significant structural change: in 1488 the humble roof turret was replaced by a massive tower over the transept.
With the conquest of Vaud by Bern and the Reformation the abbey was secularized in 1536. The monastic buildings were converted into agricultural ones or were demolished. The abbey church was converted for practical use: the wood flooring was torn up and used to create a wine warehouse on the ground floor and a granary above in the nave of the church. In the north transept, a cheese factory was established and in the south, a bakery. Just below the chancel arch there was room for a small chapel, which remained in operation. Because the church was put to secular use, it was saved from demolition. In 1761 the interior of the church was completely remodeled.
The old hospital of the abbey remained in operation after the dissolution of the monastery until 1672. It was replaced in 1736 with a castle that housed the bailiwick administrative office. Following the Vaud Revolution in 1798, the abbey buildings became the property of the state, falling into private ownership in 1802. In 1820 the church was dramatically transformed. Two new entrances, one with a pointed arch and the other with a rounded arch, were built into the fifth bay of the southern side of the nave and the second bay of the northern side. Above the bakery a two-story residence was added.
In 1942 the church was declared a National Monument. In 1982 it became the property of the Canton of Vaud, which carried out a thorough restoration that ended in 1995. The Bernese bailiwick castle and the castle grounds are still privately owned.References:
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).