French monks of the influential Cistercian order founded Alvastra Monastery in 1143. From Clairvaux in France, the monks brought modern methods of administration, technology and architecture to the province of Östergötland in Sweden. Alvastra Monastery is a distinct part of Östergötland's cultural landscape, and is open for visitors to follow the monks' medieval trail.
The district around Alvastra played an important role in the development of the Swedish Kingdom during the Middle Ages. The powerful dynasty of Sverker resided here. In fact, Sverker the Older has been described as the king of Sweden's East Geats as well as the ruler of the Swedes. It appears as if the Sverker dynasty brought about the establishment of the Alvastra Monastery and gave the original donation of land to the Cistercian monks.
The church is the heart of the vast monastery establishment. The western section and the southern transept gable with its sacristy are well preserved. The building material is limestone from Omberg, and its architecture is simple, in accordance with the order's decree against extravagancies. French masters, with the assistance of people from nearby, erected the structure. The local inhabitants adopted the new techniques, in particular stone-masonry, which was used in building parish churches.
Alvastra was Sweden's largest monastery in its heyday, and it flourished for nearly 400 years. But along with the reformation it was dissolved and the Crown retracted the monastery's land possessions. The Alvastra property was made into the Alvastra royal estate. The construction materials interested several building proprietors and were used in the making of Vadstena Castle and Per Brahe's buildings along Lake Vättern.
The ruins have been restored and preserved in several phases. An interdisciplinary research project was initiated during the summer of 1992, which investigated the monastery's role in the development of medieval statehood.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).