The bus from Saumur took less than an hour to get to Fontevraud Abbey and without further ado we walked up to the abbey with our luggage. Since we had booked a room at the Fontevraud L’Hôtel, which is directly on the abbey grounds, we could walk right in without getting a ticket first. An added advantage when getting a room here, as well as appreciating the abbey after hours without the day tourists. Whoever else stayed here over night was a kindred soul.
I get it that the Fontevraud Abbey might not be a common point of interest for some people. Okay, maybe actually for a lot of people. But to me it had a magic allure. After having read the Plantagenets books from Sharon K. Penman I looked up all these places where history happened. The abbey in Fontevraud is such a spot. Not so much as to the history that happened here, but rather who is buried here.
Henry II., Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II and mother of Richard I., Richard Lionheart, and Isabella of Angoulême, the second wife of John Lackland (another son of Henry II. and Eleanor), have all found their final resting places at Abbey Fontevraud. Also Joan, Richard’s sister, supposedly lies here. But her grave got destroyed during the French Revolution and cannot be located anymore.
Leaving the luggage at the hotel we started with a glass of wine. After all, we had made it to the abbey, the focus point of our trip.
It took us more than two hours on the first go to inhale what the abbey had to offer. Circling the graves inside the church first, we moved on to the crypt, and then the cloister grounds. This Benediction monastery had nuns and monks, but was headed by an abbess. No wonder Eleanor liked it here so much. The abbey was founded by Robert of Abrissell in 1101, a man with a vision apparently, because after he passed in 1116 there were only women coming after him.
The four graves impress in their simplicity. Eleanor lies higher than her husband Henri as you can easily see on the picture below (left side in the back). I love this woman, the cheek of it!
After the French Revolution the abbey lay in shambles until Napoléon revived it to become a prison. They were probably not much better off than the nuns. The prison stayed open until 1963 despite the abbey already being declared a ‘Maison historique’ in 1840. Finally at the beginning of the 20th century, namely in 1901, renovations of the kitchens started. The roof resembles fish scales and the eight chimneys rise proudly into the sky.
Of course we didn’t just spend two hours here. We had practically a whole day. So this is just a first impression of Fontevraud Abbey. Yours, Pollybert