1000 Years of History

Fontevraud Royal Abbey

Fondée en 1101 aux confins des provinces du Poitou, de l’Anjou et de la Touraine, Fontevraud est la plus vaste cité monastique héritée du Moyen Âge. Au cœur de l’abbatiale, les gisants d’Aliénor d’Aquitaine, d’Henri II et de Richard Cœur de Lion rappellent qu’elle fut chérie des Plantagenêt. Transformée en prison de 1804 à 1963, puis inscrite en 2000 au patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO avec le Val de Loire, Fontevraud associe patrimoine, culture, art de vivre et sens de l’hospitalité, poursuivant l’ambition de Cité Idéale voulue par son fondateur.

L'histoire de l'Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud peut être appréhendée en 3 grandes périodes.
De 1101 à 1792, l'abbaye est fondée et se développe jusqu'à la Révolution qui mettra un terme à l'ordre fontevriste.
De 1804 à 1963, l'Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud devient une des prisons les plus dures de France.
Enfin, depuis 1963, L'Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud accueille des visiteurs et fait vivre un projet culturel.

Monastic Period
1101 - 1792
Robert of Arbrissel, an itinerant preacher, scandalised the Church with his mixed community.
In 1101, he settled his followers at Fontevraud and started construction of the future Abbey’s church.
A New Religious Order
The Order of Fontevraud was composed of men and women.

The Rule of the Order was based on the Rule of Saint Benedict : Ora et labora (prayer and work), poverty, chastity, obedience, silence...

An Order Headed by Women
Robert of Arbrissel entrusted the leadership of the Abbey and the Order to a woman, the abbess.

36 abbesses directed the Abbey and the Order of Fontevraud with the title "Chief and General of the Order."
Renée of Bourbon, 27th abbess, direct descendant of Saint Louis IX, King of France. She had the walls of the enclosure erected as well as the grille in the abbey church’s choir, separating the nuns from the rest of the world.

Gabrielle of Rochechouart of Mortemart, called "the pearl of abbesses," sister of Madame of Montespan (Louis XIV’s notorious mistress) and 32nd abbess. Intelligent and cultivated, she tempered the severity of monastic life and invited writers and philosophers to the Abbey.
Her portrait is in the the chapter house.

Julie of Antin, 36th and last abbess. While at the head of this powerful order, this abbess was confronted with the uprisings of the French Revolution which provoked the departure of the monastic community. In 1792 she was forced to flee the Abbey.

The Largest Monastic City of Europe
The monastic city contains four monasteries : three for women : the Grand Convent or St. Mary, St. Mary Magdalene, & St. Lazarus ; one for men : St. John of the Habit

With 700 nuns and monks, 90 people in the Abbey’s service and the support of kings and popes, the Abbey developed very quickly : no less than 60 monasteries, dependant on Fontevraud, spread throughout France and Europe.

The Plantagenets
The Abbey enjoyed the protection of the Plantagenets, the kings of England. Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), queen of France and then of England, responsible for the royal necropolis of Fontevraud and the gisants (recumbent effigies).

Henry II Plantagenet (1133-1189), king of England, father of Richard the Lionheart.

Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199), son of
Henry and Eleanor.

When the English royal family travels in France, they don’t miss the opportuniy to gather around these famous sovereigns of England.

Several abbesses of royal blood were at the head of Fontevraud, of which five, issue of the House of Bourbon, succeed each other, from aunt to niece.
Chimeny slab with the Bourbon coat of arms.

The Closure of the Abbey
In 1789, the French Revolution began, without consequence, at first, in the provinces. But in November 1789, the State took possession of all Church property and conducted an inventory; the Abbey’s lands were sold. In 1792, the nuns and monks were forced to abandon the abbey. In 1793, the Abbey was pillaged and the men’s monastery sold as a stone quarry.
Prison Period
1804 - 1963
The Prison of Fontevrault
In 1804, a Napoleonic decree announced the creation of a prison in the Abbey. Ten years of construction, from 1804 to 1814, were needed in order to transform the site. In 1814, the first 500 prisoners arrived: men, women, and children.

In 1850, the women were transferred to the Prison of Rennes while the children were sent to Roiffé.

The Residents of the Prison
The Abbey counted 48 guards in 1850, compared to 180 in 1950...

And 2700 prisoners.

The Workshops
As in all prisons, the inmates had to "better themselves" with work.
The Dismantling of the Prison
The prison was closed in 1963, provoking the relocation of almost 600 prisoners. Forty or so inmates remained at Fontevraud to work on the restoration of the Abbey and the maintenance of the green areas. They finally left in 1985.
Contemporary Period
1963 - Today
The Restoration of the Abbey
Opening the site to the public took several decades of restoration work.
Historical Monument
The Abbey has beed classed as a national historical monument since 1840.

The principle of hospitality mentioned in the Rule of Saint Benedict is revisited.

Hospitality in the 21st Century
The old priory of St. Lazarus has been converted into a hotel and restaurant. In the past, it hosted the nuns in charge of the care of lepers, housed outside of the enclosure wall. Then, an infirmary occupied the buildings during the era of the prison.

Fontevraud Le Restaurant

Fontevraud Numérique avec des applications numériques pour faire découvrir l'Histoire aux enfants de façon ludique.

The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud is also a cultural center that hosts concerts...

... festivals...

...temporary and permanent exhibitions...

... and conferences.

Fontevraud : an Ideal City in action !

Abbaye de Fontevarud
Credits: Story

Copyright :

Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud
Nicolas Matheus
David Barrault
D. Couineau
J. Decker
Sylvain Bonniol
Christophe Bielsa
Région Pays-de-la-Loire - Inventaire général
Archives départementales Maine-et-Loire (49)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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