Tuesday 17 January 2012

L'Abbaye de Fontevraud

The Abbey of Fontevraud was patronised by Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England and it is no coincidence that Plantagenet royals, including Eleanor and Henry were buried there. There was a family connection on both sides. 
nave with the 4 royal effigies
At the urging of his wife, William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, Eleanor's grandfather granted the land in 1100 to the founder, Robert of Abrissel. A reforming preacher, Robert created a new order, that of Fontevraud and founded a religious community dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
looking towards the chancel
It was a double house -- one of both monks and nuns on the same site. Unusually, the charter decreed that the major offices should be held by women. Henry II of England's aunt, Matilda of Anjou was the second abbess. It was a rich order with the royal house of Plantagenet [Angevin] and then later the French royal house of Bourbon being major benefactors.
gothic arched cloisters
The order was dissolved during the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte turned the complex into a prison, which it remained until 1963. It was then given to the French Ministry of Culture and a long process of restoration began which finished in 2006. Now the complex hosts cultural events.
Renaissance door to chapterhouse
Much of what we see now would not be recognised by Eleanor; rebuilds, destruction during wars and now renovations have all taken their toll.
St Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata, chapterhouse
For a start the church; today an austere white space [and beautiful in its own way] would have been, in Eleanor's time, a riot of colour with painted decorations and frescos adorning the walls.
St Sebastian: 2nd right, 3rd row from top; chapterhouse
Today you can just see faint remnants in the transept. The Chapter house as we see it now is the result of a thorough Renaissance 'make over'. Eleanor might recognise the cookhouse and the chancel in the church but not much else.
mediaeval cookhouse
When we re-visited recently we had the complete complex to ourselves and made good use of the opportunity to take photographs of the art & architecture.


Jean said...

Lovely photos and thanks for the history.
I hope you have more to tell.

the fly in the web said...

Thank you for more photographs of Fontevraud...imagine if it still retained frescoes like those at Tavant!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Niall and Antoinette:
How wonderful to have had the Abbey to yourselves and to have been able to wander at will. Such glorious architecture, particularly the cloisters with their soaring Gothic vaulted ceilings. Lovely!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jean - there's so much of interest around here [as you know] that it will be a while before we run out. :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - confession time here: we've not yet been to see Tavant.

Went and couldn't get in. It is very much 'on the list' for when the weather gets better.

If in Limoges check out the cathedral. They had a go in the 19th cent at restoring it to original mediaeval polychrome glory. It was quite an assult on the eyes at first.
If I remember correctly [Niall is nodding] they used original descriptions as a guide.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jane & Lance - we were quite spoilt :-) It is like having a private playground. An advantage of going in December!

The Broad said...

Very beautiful! I do envy you being able to visit so many wonderful places when you have them practically to yourselves. So many thanks for sharing not only your good fortune but your knowledge as well!

Susan said...

Notre Dame Poitiers is fairly polychrome too,and well worth seeing.

We should visit Tavant too - do you think it is better than St Savin? Perhaps we should organise an outing together - it's open from Mar-Nov apparently.

Eleanor might not recognise even the cookhouse - I've heard a rumour that it was Viollet le Duc'd.

Diane said...

The photos are gorgeous but I love the cook house it is unique. Diane

Perpetua said...

Wonderful photographs and very interesting. I must confess to preferring the austere plainness, even though it isn't what was originally there. Odd, when I love mediaeval art in other contexts... Thank you for the tour.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - still to get to Poitiers.

An outing together sounds good! Don't know if Tavant is better than St Savin-- hard to judge when we've only seen illustrations of Tavant. Tell you after we've been :-).

God bless 19th cent "improvements"....not!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - it is an oddball building. Always think it looks like a cake, or Russian.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Broad - we're just lucky we can go and visit in the depths of winter.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - we love the feeling of space, of the building 'soaring' upwards that the white interior gives. Even though it isn't 'right' as it were.

Cuby said...

Thank you for the history and tour of such an interesting building. I rather like the appearance of the medieval cook house. Is it used for anything today? obviously not cooking I should imagine!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Cuby - it is pretty much empty. Just a small display case of artifacts. You can see the 8 hearths which were used for cooking but it isn't 'furnished' with period pieces/reproductions.
And no it isn't in use although they've added a cafe right next door :-)