The abbaye was founded roughly in 1060 by Matilda of Flanders the wife of William the Conqueror. It was consecrated in 1066 and was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. When Matilda died in 1083 she was buried in the abbaye and her tomb of black marble can still be seen today.
Matilda married William of Normandy in 1053 despite the fact that the Pope had banned the marriage due to consanguinity, they were distant cousins. They fought the Papal ban for nearly a decade and when it was finally lifted both of them built abbeys in Caen as a sign of gratitude. William’s abbey was the Abbaye-aux-Hommes which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post. William is also buried in the abbey he founded.
In the late 11th century William II of England granted the abbaye the Priory of Horestead in England, they held it until 1414 when the alien properties in England were dissolved.
Until the French Revolution the abbaye sheltered young girls of the Norman aristocracy. In return the families gave a dowry to the abbaey.
The church exemplifies the most spectacular forms of Norman romanesque architecture. The extension to the chancel was added in the beginning of the 12th century. and the crypt was probably an 11th century addition.
The Abbaye buildings deteriorated significantly over the centuries many of the convent buildings were reconstructed at the beginning of the 18th century at the order the Abbess Madame de Froulay de Tesse. The work was done by Benedictine Architect Dom Guillaume de Tremblaye, it took nearly a century and is still incomplete in places.
The arrival of the French Revolution brought about the end of the abbaye. The convent was closed and the property sold off. The church was used as a forage warehouse and the convent became the barracks, this is the reason for the lack of wood and decoration.
In 1823 the buildings became the Hotel Dieu and from 1908 they were a hospice. The last of the St Louis hospice nuns left in 1984 and the buildings became the headquarters of the Regional council. The buildings were then restored again and cleaned extensively in the 1990s.
The church itself remains active today.
Site visit 2015
The Abbaye Aux-Dames booklet