Sunday, 7 August 2011

Fontevraud Abbey in the Loire

On one of our days in the Loire we went on a cycle trip to Fontevraud a small village near Chinon, home to the largest Abbey in Europe. As we got close to Fontevraud after a cycle across fields and through woods, we locked up our bikes and walked the last (very steep) stretch into the village. This is the first view we got of the Abbey.

After our well earned ice-cream we went to check out the Abbey. The first permanent structures within the compound were built between 1110 and 1119. The founder of the abbey was a reforming preacher called Robert of Arbrissel. Robert of Arbrissel declared that the leader of the order should always be a woman, une Abbesse, a mother superior. During the history of the Abbey there were apparently 36 Abbesses. In 1804 the abbey was transformed into a prison by Napoleon and remained a penitentiary centre for more than 150 years. The last prisoner left in 1963 when the Abbey was given to the Ministry of culture who later created a cultural centre in 1975.

Here is a graffiti I spotted by chance, carved in the wall of the cantine. It apparently dates from the time when the Abbey was a prison. Rather a higher class of graffiti than average I feel.

I'm not sure about this one, less sophisticated but rather lovely as well. It shows how soft and delicate the stone is.

Apart from the church itself, one of the first buildings that attracts your attention as you enter the compound is this extraordinary building.

That pointy roof covered in turrets is the former monastery kitchen. The turrets are the various chimneys.

When you come in from the heat into the cool church, the white stone and the resulting light is frankly transcendent.

The stain glass windows are comparatively simple, but cast gentle and warm light patterns.

I took a few photos of the windows from the outside, in the cloisters. I like the muted colours.

In the cloisters they had a wonderful art installation.

It not only looked great, but also allowed you to experience the abbey from unusual view points. The kids loved it.

Official Fontevraud Abbey website can be found here

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