What is a Monastery?
Originally a medieval monastery was an enclosed solitary community of monks that were led by an abbot. These communities lived a simple life of devotion and prayer by not using worldly goods. Monasteries provided the local communities around them with not only spiritual guidance but provided community members with employment, giving out drinks, food and other items to the poor. The monks of the monastery also provided help to the community by looking after the old and the sick, teaching and guiding orphans, entertaining people that came to visit, and also documenting historical events. Often the members of a monastery were poor, but the monastery itself was rich, especially in property and land that was donated to them and their cause.
An abbey is the same as a monastery, but it is under supervision of an abbess, or an abbot.
History and Importance of Monasteries
In medieval times, Christians were often prosecuted and banished to live in remote unoccupied areas such as mountains. These banished Christians began to form their own communities, then called larva. An abba was the leader of the Christians, who were then called monachos because of the meaning of mono meant one, monachos is the origin of the word monk. They preferred solitary life because they felt that it brought them closer to God and that it gave them a better understanding of God because they had no worldly goods to distract them from their prayer and devotion. Christian monasteries first were seen developing in Egypt and Syria in the 4th century. During the 5th century, monasteries were seen in western Europe. The founders of these monasteries were in charge of creating the rules that the monks of the monasteries should live by, these established rules were followed for centuries after, even in monasteries that are still surviving today.
Monasteries were and are currently important to preserving history and art. Monks from the medieval times documented and copied the historical events, these manuscripts are important to the world today. Biographies of saints, regional history, and the history religion were all types of information that the monks documented and copied. Some of the manuscripts such as ‘Book of Kells’ and the ‘Lindisfarne Gospel’ are examples of the works of the monks. Due to the dedication of monks that involved preserving, copying and documenting, today we are able to read texts from the medieval times. Historians are able to produce books with this knowledge. Today, there are many surviving monasteries that continue to provide to their communities and the world and also serve as a living connection with the past of the medieval times.
Monasteries in France
By the middle of the 8th century, the Merovingian dynasty was overthrown by the Carolingian family. The Carolingian family kings were not only leaders and warlords, but were also religious men. These kings ruled with a mixture of culture, religion, and politics. Carolingian kings were in support of studying religious texts preparing “the soldiers of Christ”, the monks, to lead all of their people to salvation. It was the abbeys and monasteries that played a major role in the Carolingian kingdoms for it was in their preservative texts and the documentations by the monks that allowed manuscripts to be produced and studied.
Facts About Monks, Nuns, Monasteries and Abbeys
- Although nuns spend most of their entire life in a monastery or convent, when they retire they have a choice to live with their families or in an outside retirement home. If the nun chooses to stay in the convent or monastery, some have retirement areas set up for their nuns!
- Monks are not only found in Chritianity, but are also found in other religions as well such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Jainism.
- Every monastery has an open center to them called a cloister.
- Generally the most educated people of the middle ages were nuns and monks.
- During the middle ages, the main orders of monks were Cistercians, Benedictines, and Carthusians. Some of the rules of each order differed from the others, some were also more strict than other orders.
- A monk that copied books, manuscripts and other historical documents typically could spend over a year copying long books such as the bible.
- Monasteries didn’t just serve as helpful to the community, they also served as hospitals at one point.
- In the middle ages, monasteries were basically the only libraries that existed.
- The work of monks is what created the first clocks, around the year of 1320.
- Monks wore a variety of footwear depending on their various jobs or chores. The monks in Hollywood movies wearing sandals is based on a modern day myth.
Monasteries to Stay at in France
During the rise of Christianity in around the 5th century, France was one of the major areas that took part in the expansion of the religion. Today, there are quite a few monasteries that have been turned into hotels and resorts, allowing people from all over the world to travel and stay in a major part of history. Most of the monasteries still have the beautiful architecture and art from the medieval times. Staying in one of the monasteries will take you on the journey of the history of Christianity, along with the architecture and art of that period. As long as you’re respectful of the monastery’s traditions, anyone can stay in most monasteries. Some of the monasteries even offer educational courses, and special retreats to sort of help you re-balance.
- Fontevraud L’Hôtel – Robert d’Arbrissel founded the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud in the 11th century, making this monastery around 1,000 years old. His ideals was to make the monastery open to everyone of different social backgrounds. The monastery had 36 abbesses over the seven centuries that it remained an abbey. After the French Revolution in 1792, the abbess became evicted. Around 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte demanded that the abbey be turned into a prison, in which it housed over 2,000 prisoners. Fontevraud was one of the toughest prisons in France. The prison finally closed in 1963, and the beautiful structure started to be restored. The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud opened to the public in 1975, and came true to the ideas of the founder for being the ‘ideal city’.
Aside from it’s rough history, the hotel is one of the largest still standing monasteries. Featuring a newly added modern art museum, 54 guest rooms, restaurants and programs. The hotel does also offer tours, free to hotel guests but for a price to non-guests. It is also free to disabled people, children under 8 and passholders.
- Abbaye de Sainte-Croix – This wonderful structure was built in the 12th century to occupy Cistercian monks. The abbey was restored in the 1900s, still capturing the extravagant and magical charm that it was built with. The hotel offers the spirit of the former monks by providing relaxation and an all around atmosphere revolving around rest. There are 25 rooms and suites in the hotel, there is a wellness center dedicated to relaxation, restaurants, golf, and a room for business seminars and receptions. They also allow you to book weddings, parties, anniversaries, photo shoots, and birthday parties. Featuring five different room types including traditional rooms (where the monks were housed), charm rooms that have terraces, business stage rooms (also where the monks were housed), junior suites that have a terrace and a beautiful view of the plain, and luxury suites that are also known as the family suites because they feature multiple beds and much more room. The wedding chapel is an actual 12th century chapel, and their wellness area has a heated indoor pool.
- Le Couvent des Minimes Hotel & Spa – This historical building was founded in 1613 for the religious order of Les Minimes. An important part of life at the monastery was the studying and growth of plants. After the French Revolution however, Couvent des Minimes stayed unoccupied for a bit of time. In 1862, Canon Terrasson, archpriest of Forcalquier, took the beautiful structure and had it operating as a hospice and monastery until 2000. Today, the land of the monastery flourishes with grape vines, fruit trees, and fuchsia plants.
The hotel offers 48 rooms to book, private rooms in which you can book private events at, restaurants, a bar and a spa. The hotel also features an outdoor swimming pool,a herbal garden to explore, a library, a gym, and tennis courts.
- Château Sainte-Sabine – The original structure housed priests and stood until it was destroyed in the 9th century. The de Messey family acquired it in 1625 and began rebuilding to rule as lords. This family continued expanding the land and property by buying property, houses and lands that surrounded the structure. In 2011, Susanne and Jean-Louis Bottigliero acquired the castle and began renovating to turn it into the hotel it is today. An old monastery used to sit where the hotel sits now, so it has its historical values.
The hotel has 22 rooms in which are available for booking, rooms for meetings and private parties, a terrace overlooking the land in which it sits on, an outdoor swimming pool, and a bar and restaurant.
- Abbaye de la Bussière – Built as a Cistercian abbey in the 12th century, and being a home of many monks over the years, this is another beautiful structure in which you can stay in. Back in history the monks were once forced to leave their home because of the destruction and renovations that the monastery underwent over the years it has stood. Baron d’Oissel renovated it in the 19th century and it was used for a spiritual retreat for many many years afterwards. In 2005, a couple bought the historical building and turned it into a hotel.
Offering rooms for booking, private rooms for seminars and private events, bicycle rentals, wifi, three lounges, a restaurant and a park to explore.
- La Chartreuse Du Val Saint Esprit – La Chartreuse Du Val Saint Esprit was built back in 1320 to house monks. The building is labeled as a historical monument. Today it is a hotel that offers quite a lot. They have beautiful gardens in which you can take a free tour or you can purchase a guided tour. There are 53 rooms available for booking, two tennis courts, a business center, a fitness center, three restaurants, and a vegetable garden.
- Abbaye De Lérins – The monks are more than happy to welcome you if you want to get away and participate in some self-meditation and enjoy peaceful self-reflection. This is a Cistercian monastery that was built in the 14th century and still operates as an active monastery today. There is also a winery that the monks themselves run and operate.
These breathtaking monasteries are sure to give you a memorable trip. You don’t have to be religious to stay inside a monastery, but these beautiful structures were built around Christianity. Most of the monasteries also remain standing, even surviving The French Revolution and World War II. If you love history, and love to learn about history, staying in one of the monasteries in France might be just the thing you need to do.
Monasteries to Visit and Tour in France
There are also many monasteries in France that are not turned into hotels, you can certainly visit these remarkable monasteries though. These monasteries serve as landmarks, historical buildings and monuments. The other monasteries in France that you can tour include:
- Abbaye of Saint-Roman – This is an interesting monastery for sure because it is a cave monastery built in the 9th century. You can see the chapel, the monks’ cells, and the terrace of the cave monastery. Inside the walls of the monastery also contains the tomb of St. Roman.
- Our Lady of the Snows – Abbey of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges was built in the year of 1850, and is a Trappist monastery. Abbey of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges was actually burned down in 1912, but then rose again on a different site later. The monastery is actually mentioned in a book by Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes’. Today, tourists can walk through the chambers and take in the history.
- Abbaye d’Hautecombe – This is said to be one of the most visited monasteries in France. The grounds were used as a burial ground for many years for the House of Savoy. A lake surrounds the structure, and there are audio tours you can currently book to take part in to explore the chambers. The monastery is also surrounded by beautiful sculptures that any art buff is sure to enjoy.
- Molesme Abbey – This monastery was founded in the 10th century by Robert of Molesme. It is one of the most famous monasteries in the world under the Benedictine order. Unfortunately World War II and the France and Burgundy War in 1472 greatly destroyed the building, but you can still walk through the chambers and explore its rich history.
- Holy Cross Abbey – Was formed by Radegund, the Frankish queen, 552. Nuns have maintained the monastery since the 6th century, the structure has gone through some destruction and renovations over the years. Unfortunately, most of the buildings were turned into ruins due to the French Revolution. Inside the chapel there is a stone, legend has it that this stone is imprinted by God’s footprints, that is why today the chapel is called, the Chapel of God’s Footprint.
- Abbaye de Bonneval – Currently occupied by Trappist nuns, Bonneval Abbaye was once a home to Cistercian monks when it was founded in 1147. Today, the nuns of this beautiful structure make chocolate, it is said that the chocolate is very high-quality so the chocolate gets sold out immediately as soon as it hits shelves.
Aside from monasteries to visit and tour, France is rich with history in other monuments and structures as well. France is widely known to be a place for romance, usually it is Paris associated with this. Take a stroll through the historical monasteries with your partner, your family, your friends or just by yourself. France is also known for many other things such as its 350 different kinds of cheeses that are produced there, along with well-known perfume brands (Such as Chanel and Dior) that are produced there, the wine that is produced, and of course France is known for their famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower. If you are planning a trip to France to visit and tour monasteries, you might as well embrace the other fine things of France as well to make your trip the best trip that you’ve ever had.