Abbaye Fontfroide

Abbaye FontroideWe visited the Abbaye Fontfroide on our 2002 visit to France.

The Abbey was founded between 1080 and 1095 by a group of Benedictine monks. The Benedictines were replaced by the Abbey joining the Cistercian abbey of Gransleve.

Fontroide rose to a high level of power and influence in its time and its region spread as far as Catatonia.

The day of a Benedict Monk was regulated.

Two of the monks from this Abbaye were appointed to very senior positions in the church. Amaud Nouveil a cardinal and later papal legate and Jacques Fournier appointed as Pope Benoit XII.

The cloister and the chapter house date from the 12th century. The architecture is noted as being a fine example of Romanesque architecture.

The majority of the abbey building were built in the 12th and 13th centuries.

But, during the 13th century work ceased. This was because of conflict in the area and the location of Fontfroide is in the area involved with the catharsis movement. In 1208 a monk, who was a legate to the Pope, was murdered. When peace was restored, construction continued.

During the Albigensian Crusade the Abbey sided with the Pope against the Cathar heretics. This turned out to be a good call as this loyalty was repaid by the Pope. In fact, an ex-Abbot of Fontfroide became Pope in 1334.


Abbaye FrontfroideThe monastery is designed so that the community living there as an appropriate area. For example, the area that is reserved for the monks, the church and the cloister and the other buildings, are on the East adjoining the transepts of the church, thus permitting direct access for the monks to the church for services and prayers.

The lay brothers live in the part of the monastery which opens to the outside world.

Both these areas are part of the monastic complex are are enclosed, therefore stopping access to those from the outside world.

The abbey prospered for centuries. After the 14th century, however, things started to go a bit downhill.

The Abbaye was sacked during the French Revolution. Then, in 1791 it was abandoned.  The City of Narbonne turned the Abbaye into a hospice. By giving the Abbaye a use it helped to prevent it from suffering the damage that other abbayes met with after the French Revolution.

A law in 1901 on religious denominations means the end to monastic life as it was. With this, the last of the monks leave for Spain. At Fontfroide the the building and grounds are left uninhabited until 1908. It was through an auction that Fontfroide is acquired and the monastery rescued from ruin.


Abbaye Fontfroide Abbaye Fontfroide Abbaye Fontfroide


Thankfully to stop the sale of the cloisters, the Fayet Family from nearby Béziers purchased the property in 1908. This stopped the the Abbey from falling to the same fate as others in France which were purchased, dismantled and then shipped to the United States. Evidently, American sculpture and art lover Georges Grey Benard was doing this as part of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Cloisters". Thankfully, Fontfroid was saved and It has since been very tastefully restored.

The galleries of the cloisters have ribbed vaulting. The oldest part is along the church and dates to the 13th Century. The section opposite that was restored or rebuilt in the 17th Century. The galleries are supported by pairs of marble colonnettes. They are in different colours and each with capitals carved with ornate plant motifs. A terraced roof is above the galleries. It really is a pleasant experience to visit.

We arrived in the afternoon. In the morning we had visited Carcassonne. It was very cold. It was our second visit to Carcassonne and each time the weather has been unpleasant. We had planned to eat at the cafe that is located in a building previously a barn. The cafe has a reputation for good food. No luck for us. We arrived too late. It was hard to get anything to each at all. But as we arrived at Fontfroid the sun broke through the clouds and it became the start of great warm weather that pretty much remained for the balance of the trip.

 Visits through the Abbey are through guided tour. Well worth the wait - and that is not that long as they are quite frequent.