This is the final post in my advent calendar. Thank you to everyone who has read them along the way, commented, shared and most importantly enjoyed them. Have a great Christmas and holiday season
The Abbaye-aux-Hommes was founded by William the Conqueror. It was a Benedictine abbey and dedicated to Saint Steven. The church of Saint-Etienne was consecrated in 1077. The majority dates to the 11th century but the choir was redesigned in the 13th century to reflect the then contemporary gothic style. The majority of the church is built in the romanesque style. The monastic buildings were erected in the 11th century but they were destroyed in the first war of religion (1562-63) the first of the wars fought between the Roman Catholics and the Huguenots. They were rebuilt in the 18th century.
The church is also the burial place of William the Conqueror. His marble tomb can be seen in the photo above.
William married Matilda of Flanders 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. Matilda’s abbey was the Abbaye-aux-Dames which was the subject of yesterday’s post. Matilda is also buried in the abbey she founded.
The French Revolution forced the closure of the monastery and the monks were removed. In 1802 the abbey church becme the parish church and in 1804 the monastic buildings became a boy’s school.
In WWII in 1944 the high school provided refuge for the residents of Caen during bombing and survived intact. The monastic buildings are now home to the local council.
Site visit 2015
Abbaye-aux-Hommes information booklet.
The photos are all mine.
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
I have written about Fontevraud in Anjou France and it’s fascinating founder Robert of Arbrissel before.
The post can be found here
There is debate over when the Skellig monastery was first founded, but it was part of the early Christian monks’ attempts to find sanctuary, refuge, seclusion and closeness with God in distant and remote places. As a rock in the Atlantic 11.6 km off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Skellig is about as remote as it gets.
The monastery was probably founded in around the sixth century, no one is entirely sure and I have been unable to find any real agreement on this date. It consists of a collection of drystone beehive huts that are as weathertight today as they would have been when they were built. The integrity of the construction is truly remarkable.
They would have been inhabited by a community of 12 monks and an Abbot. The conditions would have been harsh to say the least. We know they had fresh water because a rainwater collection system still exists, and works as well when it’s been cleaned out, but beyond that we don’t know much about their day to day existence. They would have lived and eaten very simply.
If the community of 12 on Skellig Michael was not remote enough then there was also a hermitage built high on another point of the rock, it’s almost a sheer cliff so currently inaccessible. It is possible that this was also a refuge during viking attacks of which there were several.
The first was in c. 795 CE. They were attacked again in 812 CE and again in 823 CE. Some records of this third attack remain beyond the fact that it occurred. It is recorded in the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Inishfallen that this time the Vikings took Etgal, the Abbott of Skellig Michael, and they starved him to death. There were also further attacks in 833 CE and 839 CE.
Somehow despite all this the Skellig community survived. It isn’t known exactly when monks ceased to live on the rock, but Gerald of Wales reported that they returned to the mainland to become part of the Augustinian priory in Ballinskelligs at the end of the 12th century, however other sources report that there was still repair work going on into the 1300s.
For more information and References see my extended post on Skellig.
The photos are all mine
Clonmacnoise in County Offaly was founded on the banks of the Shannon River by St. Ciaran in 544.
St. Ciaran didn’t have the chance to lead the monastery he founded for long. Clonmacnoise was founded on the 23rd of January 544 and St. Ciaran died of the plague on the 9th of September 544, he was only 33.
Clomanoise has buildings from a variety of ages: round towers, temples and high crosses from the 10th and 11th century, a cathedral, temples and churches from the 12th century, an Anglo-Norman castle from the the 13th century and 17th century temples. Clonmacnoise has also been an important burial site since its inception, with everyone from kings to saints buried there.
Clonmacnoise was much more than a simple monastery however, it was a renowned school that was a seminary for all of Ireland not just the local area. Masters were chosen for their learning and their zeal and abbots were changed on a rotation from all around Ireland. Students flocked to the monastery from all over Europe. From the eighth to the tenth centuries if boasted a legendary Scriptorium.
In the Scriptorium monks copied and illustrated bibles and other classical works. This was the golden age of monastic arts and craft and exquisite Celtic motifs. In the community at the same time stonemasons were carving the spectacular high crosses you can see today.
Sadly Clonmacnoise wasn’t allowed to remain a peaceful site of learning. It was the object of many raids by vikings, local lords and once the Anglo-Normans arrived they enacted almost yearly raids. The monastery was burnt and rebuilt many times, either partly or wholly. The ultimate demise of Clonmacnoise was down to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was reduced to ruins by the English garrison of Athlone in 1552. They carried away absolutely everything of value leaving the monastery devastated.
Site visit 2015.
The Story of Clonmacnoise and St. Ciaran: History, stories and legends of Clonmacnoise ISBN: 9781782800217
The photos are all mine
I have already written about Mellifont Abbey, which was the original Cistercian Abbey in Ireland, in much more detail. The post can be found here:
The first monastery at Drumlane in County Cavan, Ireland was founded in the 6th century either by St Colmcille or St Maodhog. The main building remaining from the original monastery is the round tower the lower part of which dates to the 10th or 11th centuries. The upper levels, which are much less well built, date probably to the 15th century.
The monastery was re-founded in the mid 12th century as a priory of Augustinian canons. They replaced the original wooden buildings and began building in stone. The buildings suffered extensive fire damage in 1246, they were burnt by the O’Rourkes, and most of what survives from the church now is from the 15th and 17th centuries.
Drumlane was for many years the site of a shrine that was said to contain relics of Saints Lawrence, Mark and Stephen. They were gifted to Drumlane by Saint Mogue. It was believed that a false oath taken on the shrine would result in visible divine punishment. The shrine remained at the monastery until the beginnings of the 18th century when it was moved to parish priest of Drumlane. Then in 1846 it was borrowed and not returned, it eventually made its way to the national Museum in Dublin.
The abbey was dissolved in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the church continued to be used as the parish church for another 200 odd years. The English crown granted some of the lands to the O’Reilly family.
Site visit 2015
Boyle Abbey in County Louth, Ireland was founded in 1161 with monks arriving from Mellifont Abbey another Cistercian abbey. It is unknown who actually founded the abbey, but the MacDermot family were early patrons.
The complex follows the standard Cistercian lay out, but carving work that has survived especially in the church is truly remarkable. The church was consecrated in 1218 but there was a pause in construction and you can see the difference in the style of architecture. The nave was probably completed between 1215 and 1220 but the overall building time for the church was roughly 60 years. The carvings on the capitals in the church are largely of School of the West style. They’re unusual both because of their quality and because Cistercian monasteries of the time tended to be simple and austere. You can see some of the carvings in the photo above.
In 1202 Anglo-Norman baron William de Burgh in alliance with the King of Connacht sacked the abbey for three days. They broke and burnt everything and this is probably what delayed the completion of the construction of the abbey church.
The abbey was raided again in 1235 by English forces, but this time at least compensation was paid.
Along with Jerpoint Abbey Boyle was part of the Conspiracy of Mellifont in 1227, a power struggle between the Irish and Anglo-Norman Cistercian abbeys. Along with all the other Irish abbeys the abbot of Boyle was deposed. In Boyle’s case it was put directly under the control of Clairvaux in France, one of the original Cistercian monasteries.
Boyle was dissolved in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1584. This is significantly later than most of the monasteries and is largely due to Boyle’s remoteness and Abbot Glaisne O’Culleanain’s refusal to renounce Rome. He was eventually executed in Dublin for his lack of renunciation. Boyle was leased to William Usher from 1589 until 1599 and then until the 18th century it was under military occupation.
Site visit 2015
OPW Boyle Abbey booklet
The photos are all mine.
The monastic site in County Galway Ireland is made up of 6 key structures:
Heynes abbey or Heynes church: It was built in the first half of the 13th century and was originally supported by intricate columns with flowers on them.
Glebe House: It was probably the abbot’s house and was originally built in the 14th century, but was significantly reconstructed later.
Saint John’s Church: This is the oldest masonry on the site, with parts dating to the 10th century.
Our Lady’s church: A small 13th century church which might have been built with stone from an earlier church. You can see it second from the left in the above photo, I sadly don’t have a closer photo.
The Cathedral: The earliest part dates to the 11th century and was probably built to replace a wooden cathedral.
The leaning tower: This round tower dates to the 10th century probably and at 102 feet is the tallest round tower in Ireland. For more information on round towers see this previous post.
Kilmacdaugh Monastery was founded by St Colman Mac Duach early in the 7th century. He built a monastery and church. St Colman presided over the diocese until his death in 814. It remained the seat of the bishop of Kilmacdaugh until the 16th century. The churches were plundered in the 13th century but Maurice, the bishop of Kilmacdaugh who died in 1283, introduced a foundation of Augustinian canons. The canons survived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid 1500s when the land and the site were granted to the Earl of Clanrickarde.
Site visit 2015
Kilmacduagh: A short guide by James P. Hynes
The photos are all mine