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Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay is an early Cistercian monastery based on the ideal of self-sufficiency.

The Abbey of Fontenay was founded by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in 1118. Located in a small forested valley 60 kilometres northwest of Dijon, it achieved great prosperity in the 12th and 13th centuries. Fontenay enjoyed the protection of the Kings of France but was plundered in the Hundred Year's War and the Wars of Religion. Later, its fortunes declined, and the refectory was demolished by the monks in 1745. The abbey was closed in the French Revolution.

The church of the abbey was built from 1139 to 1147 in the prevalent Romanesque style, and marked by the austerity typical of Cistercian architecture. It has a cruciform plan.

Apart from the demolished refectory, the abbey retains almost all of its original buildings: church, dormitory, cloister, chapter house, caldarium or "warming room", dovecote and forge, all built in Romanesque style, with later abbot's lodgings and infirmary.


Clyde (Malta):
I visited this WHS in July 2013. It is really well kept and quite different from the Maulbronn Abbey in Germany I visited earlier this year. The guide is very informative and explains the site in detail. After the tour I explored the site on my own since all the other tourists headed towards the car park, which meant I had the site all for myself. The cloister and austere chapel are in great condition considering that they are over 1000 years old! Well worth the detour from nearby Vezelay!
Date posted: July 2013
John Booth (New Zealand):
The restoration of this ensemble of buildings has been so carefully carried out that it is hard to believe that they are nearly 1000 years old. The grounds too are kept in pristine condition.
To reach this site I had no alternative but to take a taxi from Montbard station. In between showers of rain I moved from abbey church to cloiser to dormitories to kitchen and workshop, all of which lacked decoration and seemed most austere.
Date posted: May 2010
David Berlanda (Italy / Czech Republic)
David Berlanda (Italy / Czech Republic)::
In our trip to France we have visited the Cistercian abbey of Fontenay, founded by St. Bernard in 1119 and built in the small valley of the Engrevies. The church was constructed from 1139 to 1147 by the abbot Guillaume, financed by the bishop of Norwich Ebrard, that is buried here, and consecrated by the Pope Eugene III, a Cistercian and former pupil of St. Bernard. The abbey, restored in 1906, is a Romanesque masterpiece and it’s entirely preserved in this style, apart from the refectory and despite the transformations of the 13th, 15th and 18th centuries and the ruins of the 18th and 19th century. It has a plan in the form of latin cross, a blind nave and a towerless transept and contains only an altar and a statue of Our Lady; near that are the cloister and the chapter house. The architecture is simply and modest and places ashlars side by side with crude rough-cut rubble. There are also many communal buildings within the enclosing wall: the monks’ room, the monks’ dormitory, the council room, the heating room, the abbot’s lodging, the refectory, the infirmary, the guest quarters, the bakery, the hostel, the chapel, the garden, the gate, the dovecote and the forge (12th century), that is one of the oldest industrial buildings in France.
I liked very much this abbey because of its particular and simply architecture. It's worth to be visited if you are in Burgundy but I don't think it justifies the inscription because it isn't the Cistercian abbey neither most complete, nor best known, nor that with the most perfect architecture.
Photo: Fontenay - Cloister of the abbey
Date posted: March 2006

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Site info

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
Country: France
Inscribed: 1981
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (4)
Category: Religious structure, Christian

Site history:
1981 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:
»L'Abbaye de Fontenay

In the news:
Not available

Related links:
Not available

Getting there

This WHS has 1 location(s).


Romanesque .
Dovecotes . Hospitals .
Human Activity
Iron production .
Religion and Belief
Cistercian .
Built in the 12th century .
In private ownership . Location for a classic movie .
World Heritage Process
Inscribed on a single criterion only . Minor modifications after inscription .

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