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  • FRANCE 2012




    We ate breakfast in the hotel's lovely breakfast room – cereals, meats and cheese and a do it yourself hardboiled egg.  We have encountered the egg experience before. My wife's was sort of egg soup.

    We left our hotel, and headed for Abbaye Fortenay which was about 50 miles away.  After about 15 miles we were back on the main road that we were on yesterday.  We had to exit at another unmanned toll both, but we did an excellent job…using only coins.


     We had particularly wanted to see Abbaye Fontenay because it was one of my MODELS.  I was almost finished with it when we left home.   It is located in a very isolated but green will being valley, and is a great example of a 12th century Cistercian monastery.

    The Abbey of Fontenay was founded by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian order, in 1118 on land he received from his uncle.

    Cistercian monks moved into the abbey in 1130. In 1139, the Bishop of Norwich fled to Fontenay to escape persecution, and used his considerable wealth to help finance the building of the abbey church.

    The abbey church at Fontenay was consecrated by Pope Eugene III in 1147. By 1200 the monastic complex was almost complete and large enough to house 300 monks.

    In 1259, King Louis exempted the Abbey of Fontenay from all taxes, and 10 years later the abbey became a French royal abbey. In 1359, the Abbey of Fontenay was pillaged by the armies of King Edward III of England during the Hundred Years' War. It further suffered during the Wars of Religion. In 1745, the refectory was destroyed.

    The French Revolution began in 1789 and the next year the last eight monks left the abbey. The abbey was sold and turned into a paper mill in 1791.

    For various reasons, the Fontenay paper company went under in 1903. In 1906, an art-loving banker from Lyon named Edouard Aynard bought the abbey with the intention of returning it to its medieval glory. From 1906 to 1911, all  of the structures related to the paper mill, such as workshops and chimneys, were torn down. Meanwhile, the abbey church was restored and excavated, revealing medieval tiles and tombs. Aynard's descendents continued to work on the abbey and it remains in the family today.

    UNESCO declared the Abbey of Fontenay a World Heritage Site in 1981, and restoration continued into the 1990s. In 1997, the abbey celebrated its 850th anniversary. Today the abbey welcomes nearly 120,000 visitors a year.

    In the Abbey complex consists of about a dozen beautiful buildings plus wonderful gardens.  It is no longer used as a monastery, but was a place to visit as well as a place for conferences and meetings.  A governmental workshop was being held the day we visited but it did not interfere with visitors wishing to tour all of the buildings.

    Here is a diagram of the grounds and buildings. Photographs cannot capture the entire complex, so have another look at MY MODEL







    In the parking lot was an exceptionally high cross.




    There was an entrance gate and office where the tickets were sold for €10 a person.





    As we entered we faced several buildings including the Abbotts Lodge, the guesthouse and the dovecote which is on the left - a stone building with a large round tower attached. The Dovecote was used for the keeping of pigeons and dates from the 12th and 13th centuries.

       To the right of the dovecote and behind it is the church which was built according to a Basilica plan in the form of Latin cross. It was begun in 1139 and by 1147 was consecrated by Pope Eugene III, himself a Cistercian, formerly a monk at Clairvaux. The façade is rather plain, simply adorned by two buttresses to emphasize the internal division between the nave and the side aisles. The central entrance is topped by a semicircular archivolt, with two rows of semicircular windows in the upper part.




    The church has a dirt floor, which is striking ,as we entered the large nave which measures 216 feet in length and 55 feet wide with 8 bays. The East end is a flat ended choir with a number of windows. The material for the walls, pillars, arcades, and buttresses is white ashlar. The capitals on top of the pillars are very simple, given that ornate sculptures were forbidden under the rule of St. Benedict so as to prevent any distraction.



    There is no free standing altar table in the choir but a shelf with an amazing reredos carving depicting the life of Christ




     In the northern transept arm stands a remarkable example of late 13th century Burgundian statuary. Mary crowned, carries the Christ child on her left arm. In her right hand, she originally held a sceptre, which is since disappeared. Her smile is typical of statuary from the Champagne area. The statue was sold during the French Revolution and stood in a cemetery for more than a century before being returned to the Abbey in 1929 at the initiative of the Aynard family.



    On the right side of the church is a lovely cloister.






    From the southern transept arm of the church, a staircase leads to the dormitory, the same staircase that the monks themselves use to go to the night office. Being attached to the church allowed the monks to avoid any bad weather. All he had to do was roll out of bed and be in church. The dormitory is 183 feet long. The ceiling is covered by an oak frame resembling the upturned ships hull, dates from the second half of the 15th century. This building was severely damaged by a fire during the Hundred Years War. The conference, that was taking place that day, was using this space and had a number of displays around the room.

    We walked around the outside of the church and the dormitory behind which was a lovely garden with a small fountain. It was set up for luncheon for the conference that was taking place.









    Our next stop was at the forge. Covering about 740 sq ft, it is the largest known forge in France and England. After the paper mill had been destroyed during the restoration, the forge was restored. It was operated by a waterwheel on the outside.


    We spent several hours exploring and taking photos.  It was so much fun seeing the buildings that I had just built on the model.  It was a wonderful experience in a very beautiful setting. There wasn’t any place to eat, and we hadn’t had lunch when we left

     about 2:30.


    On our way to Fontenay, we had gone through the edge of a quaint town, so we decided to explore it and look for lunch.  It also had a wonderful cathedral.  The town was named Semur-en Auxois. It is the main center of the Auxois agriculture and stock raising region. Semur became the stronghold of the duchy in the 14th century when the Citadel was reinforced by ramparts and 18 towers. The town was divided into three parts, each with a perimeter wall.

    We kept climbing to the top which was the center of town and parked.   Across the street was an outdoor café so we stopped there for a ham and cheese sandwich…very good.   We saw a policeman look at our car, so I rushed across the street…he was going to give me a parking ticket.  The owner of the restaurant saw what was happening and yelled at the policeman and told him that he would take care of it.  He filled something out and went across and put a permit on my windshield.  He was very nice about it. 




     He told us that the cathedral and the old town was just a half a block away,  so we walked through a very interesting section of shops and café and soon found the Notre-Dame  cathedral


    The Cathedral was very beautiful.  The original had been built in the 11th century, Rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries, altered in the 15th and 16th century, extended by the addition of chapels to the north side and restored by Viollet-le-Duc.

    The façade had two square towers while the transept is topped with an octagonal belfry. There was a large porch with three portals of the 15th century.


    The nave, dating from the 13th and 14th  centuries is narrow. There are eight bays and the apse ends with three chapels. There were beautiful stained glass windows through out the entire cathedral.



    We arrived back at our hotel about 5:30, having made it successful through another toll gate. We have been saving all of our coins so that we would never run out at the toll gates.




     As usual my wife took a long nap.  Then we went across the street to a high terrace restaurant –La Dent Creuse Terrasse. 



    We had a wonderful meal – I had curried lamb and she had chicken with mustard sauce.  It got rather chilly out- we were glad we brought our jackets.  Most of the people eating tonight were senior folks from other European countries.  A lot of people travel with their dogs.we have made several new friends.


    This wonderful little town of Vezelay is very deserted at night so we went back to our hotel.   It was a very enjoyable day.  








    Day 1 - Paris

    Day 2 - Sens

    Day 3 - Vezelay 

    Day 4 - Abbey Fontenay, Semur-en-Auxois, Vezelay -

    Day 5 - Beaune

    Day 6 - Beaune, Autun, Citeaux, Chateau du Clos Vougeot-

    Day 7 - Cluny  

    Day 8 - Cluny 

    Day 9 - Paray-le-Monial and Clermont-Ferrard

    Day 10 - Le Puy-en-Velay 

    Day 11 - Avignon 

    Day 12 - Avignon to Nimes

    Day 13 - Avignon

    Day 14 - Marseille

    Day 15 - Marseille

    Day 16 - Marseille

    Day 17 - Marseille to Aigues-Mortes

    Day 18 - Carcassonne 

    Day 19 - Carcassonne to Toulouse  (posted 10/6/15)

    Day 20 - Toulouse

    Day 21 - Albi

    Day 22 - Toulouse