Abbey of Fontenay

Daughter monasteries

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The Fontenay Abbey ( Fontanetum ) is an in 1118 founded by Bernard of Clairvaux Cistercian monastery in France, which since 1981 a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Abbey of Fontenay, one of the largest in Burgundy, located in the Côte-d'Or department, about 60 km northwest of the city of Dijon, about 6 km from Montbard, in a remote, original river valley. It has the oldest extant Cistercian church. The location corresponds to the Cistercian tradition, to build monasteries in remote valleys on a watercourse. Since fish was considered a major component of the cuisine of Cistercians, among ponds dammed streams often the appearance of Cistercian abbeys. Due to the surrounding wilderness a distraction and temptation by the worldly affairs of towns and villages could be avoided. The road D 32, which runs from Marmagne by Touillon, today combines the former monastery with the outside world.


Fontenay was by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux as a daughter house ( filiation ) founded in 1118 the primary Clairvaux Abbey in the Vale of Marmagne. The building is a manifesto of the strict Cistercian Romanesque and largely corresponds to the original state. Fontenay quickly evolved into a leading spiritual center of the region: the monks made ​​valuable manuscripts and achieved success in medicine and dentistry of the High Middle Ages. In the 13th century it was inhabited hundreds of monks in Fontenay.

With the French Revolution in 1789 ended the monastic life: in 1791 left the last nine monks Fontenay. After the sale, a paper mill was established in the buildings of the abbey, the basilica was increasingly threatened by decay.

1906 bought the wealthy brothers Edouard and René Aynard the entire abbey and began extensive restoration, which continues today. Only the efforts of Aynards it is thanks to them that Fontenay was declared in its restored state in 1981 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In 1997, Fontenay celebrated the 850th anniversary of the consecration of his monastery church.


The Abbey is divided into the areas of the basilica, the monastery with dormitory, refectory and chapter house, the Abtspalastes, the outbuildings and the monastic gardens.


The abbey church was built from 1139 to 1147. Since its consecration by Pope Eugene III. 1147 has undergone only minor changes in the basilica.

The facade is of seven arched windows - the symbolic figure of the Christian tradition - broken, top three, down from four windows. This has not only architectural significance. The three that is divisible by any other number, is the classic figure of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three stands for the Comprehensive the holiness and perfection, for the world of the clergy. A secular city is marked on artistic representations of the Middle Ages primarily by four arcades, the heavenly Jerusalem always by three arcades.

Four is a very central symbol number and although it is generally in the area of ​​the mundane. First, there's the Middle Ages the division of matter into the four elements of fire, water, earth and air. Then there is in human life four cardinal virtues [ Bravery ( fortitudo ), wisdom ( prudentia ), temperance ( temperance ) and justice ( justitia ) ], the four temperaments ( choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine ), the four Fathers of the Church ( Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great), the four cardinal directions. four corners of the world, the four times of day, etc. so much for the symbolism of numbers

Following the religious ideal of the Cistercian churches - and it shows here on the facade of Fontenay - simple, strong and clear. The rules of the Order prohibited towers, only roof skylights and small, at four clock in the morning for prayer calling bell ( matine ) were allowed. Figural Kapitellschmuck, sculpted portals and ornamentation were equally prohibited as colorful stained-glass windows glazing. In it are the Cistercians in sharp contrast to the simultaneous Romanesque architecture, especially to Cluny, and that made her later Mitverbreitern of Gothic style in his ascetic version. This scheme loosened later on and it will repeat what has also happened in Cluny, the starting point of the movement somewhat. The initial asceticism could not talk.

The achtjochige church is 66 meters long ( Cluny III was about three times as large) and 16.70 meters high. To the atmosphere of this church, it fits very well that no benches and the like the interior and see that it's actually also no floor is except trodden clay. The original impression of the 12th century. is completely preserved. The nave is of Fontenay - vaulted to the chorus of the Burgundian conical buoy on mighty cross straps - as in Cluny III.

But a window zone is missing, the lighting is by the side aisles and the dense groups of windows on the entrance wall to the choir walls and on the transept ends. The interior remained either untreated stone or plastered and painted with white grout, the only permissible color - even the garments of the Cistercians were colorless. Otherwise the received towerless construction neither plastic nor picturesque jewelry.

For the treatment of the stone was extremely carefully and cleanly - and therefore expensive. Mostly could be bricked without mortar. This ascetic simplicity was extraordinary popularity. In a very short time spread - along with the Order - the designs of the Cistercian all over Europe. Their first buildings were constructed of wood. Only in the second generation of the Order under Bernard of Clairvaux created stone building.

The sublimely simple, three-aisled basilica guards the larger than life stone statue of the " Madonna of Fontenay " from the 13th century. In the choir, which extends behind the tall pillars and once had a small loft, could follow from handicapped sick worship of the one without the steps having to descend from the adjacent ward, grave plates are Burgundian nobleman from the 13th century, the heyday of the abbey obtained. Also from the 13th century comes the Gothic altar.


From the south transept there is access via a staircase up into the dormitory, the dormitory of the monks, which is always above the chapter house. It is 56 meters long, the woodwork is of oak and dates back to approximately 1450th The monks slept in an unheated, dimly lit room on straw mattresses under a rug and were barely separated. There were only two by a center aisle separate rows. Within this series, the moorings were only separated by simple, low partitions.

During the Middle Ages, however, higher wooden partitions were placed between the beds at the Cistercians; so open cabins that were completed towards the aisle after all by curtains, so at least allowed a certain amount of privacy emerged. Since the 15th century also doors with peephole were allowed. The younger brothers slept for control often among the elderly. The abbot looked to see if there was in the beds no special possession, violated the commandment poverty.

Initially, it was common that after the Benedictine rule, all monks should sleep together in one room so that the dormitory could be very large, sometimes larger than the nave. Later, therefore, it came to deviations of this rule, but the monks also spent then at least in groups of 10 or 20 at night. Most of the dorms had two entrances, one directly to the transept of the church, the second to the cloister or the latrines. The light should never go out in all this - darkness creates fear and difficult to control.

Other parts of the plant

As a masterpiece of Romanesque applies the cloister, which closes around a landscaped courtyard and has excellently carved capitals. The subsequent chapter house that was once the Council and court was held and in which the clergy exchanged or operated their studies, announced by some forms of columns and windows already in the Gothic style. The only permanently heated room of the monastery was the Chauffoir ( Calefactorium, heat exchange ), the one used mainly for typing, since it has two huge fireplaces ( in addition to those in small niches, the ink was stored ), where the monks ( the clammy could warm fingers).

The restored according to old models herb gardens limit the ward in which the patients in the region were provided, and the smiths, with their huge, driven by a water drop hammer ( a precursor of the steam hammer ) was an important source of income of the monastery. In the 15th century the curious pigeon tower, which referred to the hunting rights of the monks, and the kennels emerged. The value held in the playful style of the Rococo abbot's palace from the 18th century, now serves as the Aynard family residence.