Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Things to Do

  • Carriage House and Abbey Entrance
    Carriage House and Abbey Entrance
    by Beausoleil
  • Fontevraud Abbey
    Fontevraud Abbey
    by Beausoleil
  • Abbey Church
    Abbey Church
    by Beausoleil

Most Recent Things to Do in Fontevrault-l'Abbaye

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    Get a guidebook and walk through the abbey

    by Beausoleil Updated May 5, 2013

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    Fontevraud was protected by members of Plantagenet family so the abbey church has the very colorful tomb figures of Henri II (Plantagenet) and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. The other two painted tomb sculptures are of their eldest son Richard the Lionhearted and of Isabelle of Angouleme. The history of the era, particularly of Eleanor is fascinating.

    The church was unfortunately during its history used as a prison and sorely neglected. Fortunately, it is now being restored. We visited in 1996 and again in 2006 and noted a marvel of restoration in the 10-year period.

    Plan to spend some time as many buildings are now open and the grounds are extensive and very interesting. Views from several places are stunning.

    There is a hotel inside the Abbey if you want to experience it after the day trippers have left. It's called Hotel St. Lazare.
    Hotel St. Lazarus

    Carriage House and Abbey Entrance Fontevraud Abbey Abbey Church
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    Corridors and features

    by ATLC Updated Feb 20, 2008

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    Some details along the way. A corridor here and there that will give way to views over the Grand Moutier Cloister (that earlier I called the center court!).

    There are two more tips in this category.

    If you click here, you can see those too.

    Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    A final look outside

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    As I was in the attic and on a second floor, I cast another look outside at those scarily neat courtyards.

    We had no time left to visit the other gardens and buildings. But it was impressive enough to make a very nice travel memory.

    I hope you enjoyed my tour through this magnificent place, in the previous 12 tips.

    Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    Exhibition in the attic

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    Now I can't exactly remember in which part of the cloister I was here but walking up stairs, I found myself directly under the magnificent wooden roof. You can see the similarity to ships. It really is one upside down.
    In this huge space I found an old mural to which I had to climb to get close.

    The exhibition was amazing. A photo exhibition of remote cloisters all over the world and of all religions.

    Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    The Romanesque kitchen, the inside

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    The Romanesque kitchen is directly next to the calefactory, which probably explains how that huge room was heated. In many castles and manors you can see kitchens with a huge chimney rising high and ending in a little opening at the top. This kitchen had many of them. You should imagine there was one in the middle and one on top of each arched area.
    I sat there imagining cooking going on for 800 people, day in, day out. What would they eat? There were many nuns and monks of noble families living there. Cuisine must've been more than the simplest of foods. Which reminds me that cloisters were not only religious communes but also wealthy homes to nobility that did not take part in secular life.
    Oh well... I am only imagining!

    Again, don't forget that for actual historical explanations there is an English, German and French PDF file available at the website below.
    Or for direct access to that document, clilck here

    Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    The Romanesque kitchen, the outside.

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    This was the highlight for me. First the outside. The fish scale roof, all those pointed chimneys. There was a little presentation in the kitchen of which I made some photos. Interesting builder's drawings, and old photos of how it must've looked, derelict before restauration in the 1940s. At least, that's a date that I can make out from one of the drawings.

    Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Romanesque kitchen at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    Chauffoir (calefactory)

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    What the heck is a calefactory? Seeing the French word, I suspect it has something to do with heat. But this huge HUGE room doesn't look like it has anything to do with that. Let alone that such a big space could be heated at all.

    However, a calefactory does mean a heated room or a room producing heat. At certain times during the day the nuns would sit here to embroider and write. And thus the room was heated. I've not found out how they heated this room. By the few chairs that are there you can see it can easily contain a few hundred people at one time.

    Calefactory at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    More beauty outside

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    From the Chapter house and some corridors, I found myself outside again. On this hot day it was nice to be able to move back and forth from cool inside to warm and sunny outside. Look again how immaculate everything looks, and how well maintained both grounds and buildings.

    Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    Abbesses

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    Fontevrault abbey was founded in 1101 AD by a priest called Robert who was initially unsuccesful in reforming his diocese. Disappointed, he chose a hermit's life but his followers, both male and female were so many that he decided to build them an abbey.
    He determined that only women were to lead this abbey. The abbesses, 36 in total, reigned over this excessively rich abbey. Half of the abbesses were of royal blood and you can imagine the power that they had.

    There is a large board (2nd photo) with all the abbesses names and if possible also their portraits. Managing an organisation where 800 nuns and monks lived will have been no small thing. Did the priest Robert realise he had been rather ahead of his time with his decision that only women, even preferably widows, would lead his abbey? The first abbess was Petronille de Chemillee who was abbess between 1115 and 1149. Or on second thoughs, that may have been her life span. I can't make that out from the photo.

    The first photo: I was attempting to make a close up of the intricate door lock but failed miserably. Still, it's an example of how much attention went into the building.

    Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Abbesses at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    The chapter house

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    A very impressive room with wall painting, depicting biblical scenes. Within these paintings the abbesses's faces are portrayed, in those biblical stories. Many of the Bourbon family can be found here.
    Although the room seems to be meant to confess to sins publicly (which the nuns actually used to do), the strong presence of royal names and the sheer eloquence and richness of the colourful paintings suggest a will to impress and exude some sort of worldly power.

    Chapter House Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Chapter House Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Chapter House Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Chapter House Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Chapter House Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    The center court

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    Well, I suppose you could call it a center court with the lovely trimmed hedges. A breath of warmer air after the cool of the abbey church. Note that there were not many visitors about. And the grounds are immaculate. No stray bits of paper or rubbish.

    Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Fontevrault
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    More abbey church

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    The sparseness continues at the altar, with an amazing light coming from behind through the windows that have not been stained, for a change.
    I do love stained glass, but this whiteness gives a unique atmosphere.

    A mural in the 3rd photo in this tip shows the names again of those famous kings, Henri II and his son Richard Lion Heart, his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and his sister Joan of England.

    Abbey church at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Abbey church at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Murals at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye
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    The abbey church

    by ATLC Written Feb 20, 2008

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    You can read all about the abbey history at the link below. There's a downloadable PDF there in English, German and French. Or click here for a 13-page history in English (PDF).

    I'll just share my experience here.
    It was very hot on the day we visited. Entering the cool white church, I was amazed at the brickwork. Almost as if it were a very modern building. Unexpectedly sparse. Where was the grandeur that I was expecting of the burial place of major European kings and queens?

    However, it was exactly the sparseness and the cool that inspires awe. The almost simple figures of Henri II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard Lion Heart with his sister Joan of England. They are not surrounded by pomp and glory. Only the white walls of the quiet church makes them stand out like nothing else could.

    Abbey church at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Abbey church at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Henri II Abbey church at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye Richard Lion Heart
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    Stop at the Church of St. Michael

    by hquittner Written Jul 3, 2007

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    Just outside the abbey stands the parish church of the town, St. Michael's. It is the repository for some of the items which we donated to Ste.-Marie that no longer seem appropriate, such as the finely carved 16C tabernacle at its altar and a carved crucifix from 1550.

    Altar View of St. Michael's Crucifix (1550)
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    Do Not Miss the Unusual Kitchen

    by hquittner Written Jul 3, 2007

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    The last stop is the stone kitchen next to the refectory. In recent centuries its function was unknown. Documents show it was built by a gift from Henry II in the mid-12C. It is unique among old buildings. It has a conical or rather an octagonal shape with 8 apse-like closed in fireplaces that have pipes in their roofs. Other chimneys remove the remaining smoke. The central vent is to remove hot cooking fumes. Over 500 people (there were sick and lepers as well as other residents and guests) were fed at each meal. (There was a way to use it periodically to smoke meats as well). Some changes were made over the centuries to improve its operations further confusing its attribution. Note the roof corbel which bear typical 12C grotesque figure carvings.

    The Kitchen Details of the Roof Corbels The Upper Part of the Interior
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