Foundation of the Ile Chauvet Abbey
The Ile Chauvet Abbey initially stood on a small island (ile), hence its name.
The rocky spur was one of the many islets in the Baie de Bourgneuf.
The progressive silting of the bay and the draining of the marsh left place to solid land.
As a result, Ile Chauvet is today located a dozen kilometers from the littoral, in the village of Bois de Céné.
The shape of the island, however, can still be clearly seen from the air.
The Benedictine monks of the nearby Abbey of Absie-en-Gastine obviously thought that the rocky spur was a perfect location!
They founded their abbey in 1130, under the protection of the lord of Garnache.
They also drained the surrounding marshes and built dykes in order to isolate their land.
The meadows and salt marshes they created remained their main source of income throughout the Middle Ages.
Decline of the abbey
However, the abbey’s remote location didn’t spare it from recurrent attacks through the centuries.
The English – yes, them again! – destroyed it in 1381 during the Hundred Years War and the Protestants burnt it in 1558 during the Wars of Religions.
The monks had not choice, but to abandon their ruined monastery.
But resilience is a holy virtue, so they rebuilt it and returned in 1680!
Monastic life therefore resumed, but the Benedictine rule was abandoned in favour of the less strict Camaldule rule.
The monks of the Ile Chauvet Abbey lived in peace for another 98 years, until the eve of the French Revolution.
Ile Chauvet Abbey, a listed Historical Monument
The abbey became national property in 1791 and progressively fell into ruins.
All that is left of the original buildings are the ruined Romanesque abbey church, the well, the pilgrims hospice and the monks dormitory.
The beautifully Gothic well once stood in the centre of the long gone cloister.
This well, but also the ruined church – including the font and the five-arch vaulted porch – the pilgrims hospice, the 12th century dormitory and its original roof frame and all the floors were classified Historical Monuments in 1992.
The abbey is today privately owned and open for visits.
The pilgrims hospice houses a museum that retraces the history of the abbey; the dormitory serves for temporary art exhibitions.
The impressive ruins, dormitory and hospice are well maintained and showcased.
That said, the Ile Chauvet Abbey is not very easy to find!
I’d recommend you visit if you are looking for an ‘out of the beaten track’ experience!
A field indeed serves as car park; you then you have to climb a series of uneven steps scattered in a small wood before reaching the owners’ mansion and the abbey…
Department of Vendée
Coordinates: Lat 46.933264 – Long -1.908933