Fontevraud Abbey, under the patronage of the Kings of England and France
Fontevraud Abbey contains the recumbent statues of Henry II King of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.
It also has the only preserved Romanesque kitchens in France.
Robert d’Arbrissel founded the abbey in 1101.
However, Fontevraud Abbey was not any ordinary abbey; it was unique!
It indeed brought together a community of lay brothers and sisters, who lived in entirely separated compounds, yet within the same enclosure!
The abbey spread over 14 hectares and was one of the largest monastic sites in Western Europe.
It consisted of four monasteries. Each monastery had its own church, cloister, chapter-house, kitchen, home and outbuildings.
All were, however, under the direction of a single abbess.
The 36 Abbesses of Fontevraud Abbey were elected.
Most were royal widows or ladies of noble extraction, who brought generous donations to the abbey.
This originality and innovation turned Fontevraud Abbey into an outstanding institution that remained for centuries under the patronage of the French kings.
Fifteen members of the Plantagenêts Dynasty, kings of England and patrons of the abbey, were indeed buried at Fontevraud.
The abbey progressed under the direction of Abbess Jeanne-Baptiste de Bourbon, the sister of Henri IV.
It thrived under the direction of the very innovative Gabrielle de Rochechouart de Mortemart, the sister of Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV’s favourite.
She indeed transformed Fontevraud into a prestigious religious and spiritual centre.
The king’s four daughters were also educated at Fontevraud Abbey.
Fontevraud, however, recovered its past influence in the early 18th century.
By then, the abbey’s assets consisted of over 100 properties and 75 priories.
It became national property at the French Revolution (1792).
Most monastic buildings were demolished, the remaining converted into a prison.
Dome Church – Fontevraud Abbey
Fontevraud Abbey’s main entrance faces Place des Plantagenêts and leads into a large courtyard.
The 19th century barracks built for the garrison in charge of the prison, the 18th century stables (Fannerie) and the late 17th century Abbesses’ House frame it.
Once past the ticket office, visitors discover the Romanesque Dome Church, which was consecrated in 1119.
Stunning carved capitals showcase the gigantic four cupolas-nave which is considered a masterpiece of architecture.
Sadly, it became a prison from 1804 to 1963.
The traces of the beams that supported the second floor are indeed still visible in the walls.
It has since been restored to its original lay-out and beauty!
The Dome Church flanks the northern site of the Grand Moustiers Monastery.
The Gothic and Renaissance Cloister serves the 16th century Chapter House, an impressive hall whose walls are painted with portraits of the abbesses.
It leads t the 12th century Chapelle St-Benoît and hospital.
It also accesses the Refectory, a 40m long hall which has retained its original Romanesque walls.
A Gothic arched ceiling, however, replaced the original roof’s wooden structure during the 16th century.
Finally, the Cloister leads to the monks dormitories and the Romanesque kitchens.
Recumbent statues of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine
The Dome Church contains the polychrome recumbent statues of the Plantagenêts kings:
King Henry II of England and Count of Anjou and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, who died in the abbey in 1204.
Their son Richard the Lion-Heart.
Isabelle d’Angoulême, the wife of their youngest son, John Lackland. John Lackland’s recumbent statue, however, contains only his heart.
Medieval kitchens – Tour Evraud
Fontevraud Abbey boasts the only preserved Romanesque kitchens known to this day in France.
The huge octagonal building is also known as Tour Evraud.
A hood topped it, and the roof is tiled with overlapping slabs.
Eight round chapels once surrounded it.
Three were indeed demolished during the 16th century to connect the building to the refectory.
The architect Viollet-le-Duc restored the building in the 19th century, but the fireplaces were added in 1904.
Fontevraud Abbey, Centre Culurel de l’Ouest
Fontevraud Abbey was rehabilitated in 1975 and converted into the Centre Culturel de l’Ouest (Western France Cultural Centre).
The French National Trust is in charge of the ongoing restoration work.
The already restored buildings serve as venues for temporary exhibitions, seminars, conferences and concerts.
The Priory St-Lazare, a former leprosy hospital, has been converted in a hotel to accommodate visitors.
Department of Maine-et-Loire – Fontevraud – Place des Plantagenêts
Coordinates: Lat 47.181821 – Long 0.050211