One of the oldest and most complete Cistercian abbeys in Europe, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
The original complex comprising church, dormitory, cloister, chapter house, caldarium, refectory, dovecote and forge, remain intact except the refectory.
The Abbey of Fontenay, along with other Cistercian abbeys, forms a connecting link between Romanesque and Gothic architectures.
Foundation of the order [extract from Wikipedia]
In the late 11th century in the great Benedictine monastery in Cluny, France, St Robert thought that Cluny was against the actual Rule of St Benedict: “to work is to pray”. As a result, St Robert and other monks detached from Cluny.
St Robert established the Order of Cistercians in Citeaux, France. The new order observed the Rule of St Benedict that monks had to be poor and live a simple life.
Cistercians built self-sufficient monasteries in isolated areas and refused to use servants. Independent, they differed from Cluny. All houses were under the direct control of the abbot, and each Cistercian monastery took care of its own. Each was an independent individual society.
Bernard of Clairvaux, a founder of the reformed Cisterian order, felt that Cîteaux Abbey was not austere enough to reflect the Rule of St Benedict. Thus, in 1118 he founded the Abbey of Fontenay in a Burgundy valley with strictly implemented austerity. The Cistercian monks moved to Fontenay Abbey in 1130. Nine years later, the Bishop of Norwich fled to Fontenay to escape persecution, and helped finance the construction of the church . The church was consecrated in 1147 by Pope Eugene III.
By 1200 it was complete with 300 monks. In 1259, devout King Louis exempted the Abbey of Fontenay from all tax. Ten years later the abbey became a Royal Abbey. In 1359, the Abbey of Fontenay was pillaged by the army
The Abbey was looted by King Edward III of England during the Hundred Years' War. It suffered further damage in the Wars of Religion in late 16th century. In 1745, the Refectory was destroyed. After the French Revolution in 1789 all the monks left the abbey, which was turned into a paper mill.
In 1906 Edouard Aynard, an art-loving banker from Lyon, bought the abbey and restoration was complete by 1911. The abbey remains in the Aynard family to this day. In 1981 the abbey became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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