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January 19, 2019

France: Abbaye de Fontevraud


Abbaye de Fontevraud

The Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud (in French: abbaye de Fontevraud) was a monastery in the village of Fontevraud-l’Abbaye, near the commune of Chinon in France’s Loire Valley. It was founded in 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. Robert’s abbey flourished and became the center of a new monastic Order, the Order of Fontevrault.

Composed of double monasteries the Fontevrault order was a community that consisted of both men and women. Until the church condemned the practice, the men and women lived together in the same house adhering to an ancient ascetic practice called Syneisaktism, a chaste spiritual marriage.

Inside the cloister

The interior of the abbey chruch

After the church’s objections the men and women were housed in separate quarters. The monks lived in small priories and lived in community in service to the nuns and under their rule. Indeed all of the members of the order were subject to the authority of the Abbesses of Fontevraud, a chain of female leaders that continued for over 650 years from 1115 until the abbey was disestablished as a monastery in 1789 during the French Revolution.

The complex itself is peaceful, austere, and well, abbey like. It is pleasant to wander through and explore.

The tombs of Henri and Eleanor

Most noteworthy are the tombs of the Plantagenet King of England, Henry II, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and son, King Richard the Lionheart, who are all entombed in the abbey’s church. The Plantagenet dynasty was a great benefactor of the Fontevrault Abbey in its early days. With the passing of the Plantagenets support the abbey went into declined.

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UNESCO has included the Abbaye de Fontevraud in its “The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes” Heritage listing along with the region’s numerous châteaux.

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We visited the Abbaye de Fontevraud in August of 2018.

If we had planned better we might well have spent the night in the village of Fontevraud-l’Abbaye that surrounds the abbey. It is a pleasant small town that would be particularly nice when the tourists leave at the end of the day. The area, like much of the Loire Valley, is popular with touring cyclists.

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