Sep 2, 2008

Fontfroide Abbey

"To the south-west of Narbonne, in a rocky vale of the Corbières, this glorious Cistercian construction is hidden in the hollow of a valley. The abbey quietly shelters in a typical Mediterranean landscape, surrounded by trees such as cypress, box tree and pine.
The Abbey's origins go back to the end of the 11th century. Having originally followed Benedictine rule, Fontfroide finally adopted the Cistercian order in the middle of the 12th century. The monastery rapidly came to hold an immense estate which spread as far as Catalonia. As early as the beginning of the 13th century, Fontfroide had set up eight subsidiary abbeys.
During the Crusade against the Albigensians, Fontfroide rose as a powerful stronghold of Catholic orthodoxy confronting the Cathar religion which it fought against virulently. Two monks of Fronfroide stand out particularly at that time: Pierre de Castelnau and Raoul, who were appointed Papal Legates by Innocent III.
Of all the famous abbots, it is also necessary to mention Jacques Fournier who became Pope under the name of Benoît XII (1334-1342).
After a slow decline, Fontfroide fell under commendam from 1476 to 1764, when it finally lost its abbatial title and thus its subsequent income.
During the 18th century the conventual priors carried out many adjustments before the monastery's adjudication in 1791. The buildings were relatively untouched by the French Revolution, and were occupied once again by the Cistercians of the Immaculate Conception from 1858 to 1901."
A law of 1901 put an end to monastic communities, and the last of the monks fled to Spain. The abbey remained uninhabited until 1908 when the property was sold at auction to Gustave Fayet. He undertook an extensive restoration: stained-glass windows were fitted, decorative wrought iron filled the window openings, and statues and reliefs were added to the walls and gardens. In 1990, a rose garden of more than 3000 rosebushes was planted. He was an aesthete and an all-round artist who owned paintings by, and to name a few, Degas, Manet, Pissarro; he was Gauguin's main client. The stained glass artiste he hired was one of the greatest of its time: René Billa, also known as Richard Burgsthal. His work is beautiful and particularly stands out for the quality of the colors he uses.
Fontfroide abbey has been the property of his family ever since and visits are by guided tour only.

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