Foundation of the Abbaye Saint Magloire de Lehon

The Abbaye Saint Magloire is nestled in the picturesque medieval village of Léhon near Dinan.

Abbaye Saint Magloire
Abbey seen from the village

Six preacher monks came from Wales in the 6th century AD.

They became the custodians of the relics of St-Magloire, the Bishop of Dol de Bretagne, one of seven dioceses of Brittany.

Legend has it that as they searched for the perfect place, trees and bushes that grew by the ford started to bloom.

This phenomenon, known as Eté de Saint-Martin (Indian summer), is a period of mild weather that can occur in the early days of November.

The same climatic phenomenon indeed took place when the body of St. Martin, who died in Saumur in November 397AD, was brought back by boat to the city of Tours.

Abbaye Saint Magloire in Lehon -gardens
Gardens

The 6 monks founded their monastery in a meander of the river Rance on land bequeathed to them by Nominoe the king of Britain.

The land was adjacent to the ford that allowed the old Roman road, a major trading route, to cross the river and link the city of Corseul and Rennes.

The Lords of Dinan generously endowed the Abbaye Saint Magloire de Lehon.

However, the Norman invaders destroyed this first abbey during the 9th century, but the monks managed to escape with the Holy Man’s relics.

The Abbaye Saint Magloire in the Middle Ages

The Abbaye Saint Magloire de Lehon is therefore a perfect illustration of transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture.

Abbaye Saint Magloire - Stained-glass windows by the master glazier Gerard Lardeur
Stained-glass windows by the master glazier Gerard Lardeur

It was indeed rebuilt in the 14th century but the original Romanesque front porch was kept.

The abbey thrived until the 15th century when it was placed under the leadership of a commendatory abbot.

Mostly secular, these abbots didn’t live on the premises nor participated to the day to day running of the abbey.

However, they received the income the abbey generated.

They kept the major part and redistributed only a minor portion to the monks.

This lack of funds obviously generated much discontentment among the monks.

It also led to a relaxation of the monastic rule and poor maintenance of the buildings.

Abbaye Saint Magloire - Romanesque porch
Romanesque porch

Fortunately, the abbey underwent a spiritual revival during the 17th century.

The newly appointed Prior Noël Mars indeed re-established the Benedictine rule.

He also rebuilt the cloisters and monastic buildings around the stunning Romanesque refectory, the abbey’s focal point.

Unfortunately, the abbey declined once more after his death.

It became dependent from the Abbey of Marmoutiers and therefore lost its prerogatives.

As a result, there were only 10 monks left in 1766, when King Louis XV ordered its closure!

Rehabilitation of the Abbaye Saint Magloire

Abbaye Saint Magloire - Baptismal font
Baptismal font

The French Revolution brought its share of devastation, as the abbey was declared State property.

It served as a ammunition depot then was sold to a private owner who set up a tannery in the buildings.

Saint Magloire fell slowly into ruins until the 1890s.

The villagers rehabilitated the buildings with the help of the local abbot and the Frères Hospitaliers de St-Jean de Dieu.

They restored the abbey church in order to replace their small parish church.

The Abbaye Saint Magloire de Lehon was listed Historical Monument in 1931.

A first phase of restoration took place in 1956 in order to isolate the buildings from flooding.

Abbaye Saint Magloire - Bone relic
Saint-Magloire’s bone relic

The second phase, which lasted from 1987 to 1991, focused on the rehabilitation of the church and Romanesque refectory.

The third phase of restoration is currently underway.

It focuses on the landscaping of the gardens, the rehabilitation of the hospice and the square corner tower that overlooks the gardens and once housed the archives and the prison.

The abbey’s former bakery, stables and miller’s house are today owned privately.

Saint Magloire has been the property of the municipality of Léhon since 2001.

Abbey Church Saint Magloire de Lehon

Abbaye Saint Magloire - Refectory
Refectory

The church boasts a wealth of architectural features, such as the 12th century original Romanesque porch and granite baptismal font.

This richly carved font is indeed a superb illustration of Romanesque art.

The nave is impressive in size and simplicity; it showcases the ribbed vault which was entirely rebuilt in the late 19th century.

In 1962, the Turmel-Dumont workshops created the colourful stained glass windows, as well as the magnificent rose window above the altar.

The church indeed badly suffered during WWII when the Germans bombed the bridge.

Abbaye Saint Magloire - Salle Noel Mars and Etienne de Langle
Salle Noel Mars and Etienne de Langle

The organ was built in 1997 in order to commemorate the centenary of the restoration of the church.

The Beaumanoir family, Lords of Dinan and patrons of the abbey, are buried in the church.

Their recumbent statues, which date from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, are all placed along the walls of the nave.

Among them you’ll find some ancestors and descendants of Bertrand du Guesclin, who belonged to a minor branch of the Lords of Dinan.

The church exhibits also a bone relic (this is quite rare) in a small gilded shrine affixed on the wall.

Abbaye Saint Magloire - Romanesque head
Romanesque head

Museum and Romanesque sculpted head

The former Study Room, next to the Chapter House, accommodates a small museum.

The Musée de l’Abbaye Saint Magloire de Lehon features extensive collections of books, prints and various manuscripts.

This room was built during the 17th century above the foundations of the original abbey.

Restoration work conducted in 2009 discovered that it had been built above the original 12th century Scriptorium.

An exceptional sculpted head, since known as Tête Romane – Romanesque Head, was discovered at the same time.

The Scriptorium is not open to the public but the Tête Romane is visible through a glass pane affixed on the floor.

Cloister

The cloister was the centre of the monastic life, a place of meditation and contemplation.

Abbaye Saint Magloire - Cloister
Cloister

This cloister is quite recent, as it dates ‘only’ from the 17th century.

However, the wooden frames supporting the roofs of the lateral galleries haven’t survived the passage of years.

Their absence though brings more light into the small enclosure which has been turned into a venue for temporary art exhibitions.

Combles – Attic

A massive stone staircase leads to the attic; it once linked the monks’ dormitories to the church.

The attic, the abbey’s former storage room, boasts impressive volumes as it initially was a single room.

The roof wooden frame is shaped like the keel of a boat and gives it a unique character.

A series of alcoves were built in 1984 for the shooting of Les Compagnons du Nouveau Monde – Companions of the New World, a film by Gabriel Axel after Bernard Clavel’s novel.

Gardens of the Abbaye Saint Magloire de Lehon

The gardens stretch down to the river and are dotted with a multitude of Romanesque vestiges recovered from the old abbey.

Abbaye Saint Magloire - attic
Combles – attic

The abbey’s two water mills were demolished in the 19th century, but the monks’ wine cellar was restored!

The three-storey square tower that marks the corner of the main building once housed the abbey’s archives.

The two upper-floors served also as a prison as the prior had the right to Justice.

The conveniences were relegated to the basement!

The gardens have retained the monastic quietude and are an excellent spot for relaxing after the visit of the abbey.

Department of Côtes d’Armor
Coordinates: Lat 48.442311 – Long -2.038473

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Brittany- Latest content