L’Abbaye de Fontenay

cloisters-fontenay.jpgShort history:

1118. The abbey was founded by Saint Bernard in a small marshy valley a few kilometers from Montbard (Burgundy).

1130. The monks settled down on the actual Fontenay site, at the intersection of two combes.

1139. Ebrard, the Bishop of Norwich, came to Fontenay to flee the persecution he was under in England. His fortune financed in part the construction of the church

1147. Church dedicated by Pope Eugene III.

1259. Saint Louis exempts Fontenay from all taxes.

1269. Fontenay became the Royal Abbey.

1359. Fontenay was pillaged by the armies of Edward III, king of England.france-cistercianabbeyoffontenay.jpg

1547. Establishment of the Commende regime whereby the Father monk is appointed by the King and not elected by the monks.

1745. Destruction of the refectory.

1789. French revolution.

1790. The last eight monks left the abbey.

1791. The revolutionaries sold the abbey to Mr. Hugot, who turned it into a paper mill.

1820. Fontenay was bought by Elie de Montgolfier, an ancestor of the inventor of hot air balloons, who develops the business.

1838. The scholar Marc Seguin lives in Fontenay and does research.

1852. Fontenay is classed as a historical site.

1903. The paper mill is expanded by the Montgolfier family.

1906. Eduard Aynard, a Lyonnais banker and son-in-law of Montgolfier, bought Fontenay and decided to dismantle all the industrial buildings in order to bring back Fontenay to its mediaeval glory. The restoration continued until 1911.

1960. The dormitory is restored by Pierre and Hubert Aynard.

1981. The Fontenay Abbey is declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

The Fontenay abbey is located in northern Burgundy, 80 km north of Dijon and 250 km south of Paris. In this small valley of forest and ponds, Fontenay has stayed a peaceful haven from its very beginning.

This stark Burgundian monastery was founded by St Bernard in 1119. With its church, cloister, refectory, sleeping quarters, bakery and ironworks, it is an excellent illustration of the ideal of self-sufficiency as practiced by the earliest communities of Cistercian monks. Apart from the demolished refectory, it retains almost all of its original buildings: church, dormitory, cloister, chapter house, caldarium or “heating room”, dovecote and forge, all built in Romanesque style, with later abbot’s lodgings and infirmary. It is one of the oldest and most complete Cistercian abbeys in Europe.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was a French ecclesiastic, born near Dijon. In 1113 he became a monk in the Cistercian monastery of Cîteaux, a small village south of Dijon, and in 1115 he became abbot of a monastery at Clairvaux, north of Dijon. Under his rule the monastery at Clairvaux became the most prominent of the Cistercian order. Reputed miracles and the eloquent preaching of Bernard attracted numerous pilgrims. Between 1130 and 1145, more than 90 monasteries were founded under the auspices of the one at Clairvaux, and Bernard’s influence in the Roman Catholic church spread throughout the world.

He is reputed to have established the rule of the Order of Knights Templar, and in 1128 he obtained recognition of the order from the church. In the contest between Pope Innocent II and Antipope Anacletus II for the papacy, Bernard was instrumental in the victory of Innocent. In 1146, at the command of the pope, Bernard began his preaching of the Second Crusade.

His sermon, delivered at Vézelay, aroused enthusiasm throughout France; Louis VII, king of France, was persuaded to join the Crusade, and subsequently Bernard gained recruits from northern France, Flanders, and Germany. The failure of the Crusade was a great blow to him. He was canonized in 1174 and named Doctor of the Church in 1830. His feast day is August 20.

Bernard was an uncompromising opponent of heresies and of rationalistic theology, such as that of the French philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard. He wrote many sermons, letters, and hymns; some of the hymns are still sung in both Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. Important among his works are De Diligendo Deo (The Love of God, c. 1127) and De Consideratione (Consideration to Eugene III, c. 1148).

Links of interest:

Official Abbey website



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