Abbey of Fontenelle
(Or ABBEY OF SAINT WANDRILLE).
A Benedictine monastery in Normandy (Seine-Inférieure), near Caudebec-en-Caux. It was founded by Saint-Wandrille (Wandregesilus, d. 22 July, 667), the land being obtained through the influence of his friend St-Ouen (Audoenus) Archbishop of Rouen. St-Wandrille was of the royal family of Austrasia and held a high position at the court of his kinsman, Dagobert I, but being desirous of devoting his life to God, he retired to the Abbey of Montfaucon, in Champagne, in 629. Later on he went to Bobbio and then to Romain-Moutiers, where he remained ten years. In 648 he returned to Normandy and founded the monastery which afterwards bore his name. He commenced by building a great basilica dedicated to St. Peter, nearly three hundred feet long, which was consecrated by St-Ouen in 657. This church was destroyed by fire in 756 and rebuilt by Abbot Ansegisus (823-33), who added a narthex and tower. About 862 it was wrecked by Danish pirates and the monks were obliged to flee for safety. After sojourning at Chartres, Boulogne, St. Omer, and other places for over a century, the community was at length brought back to Fontenelle by Abbot Maynard in 966 and a restoration of the buildings was again undertaken. A new church was built by abbot Gérard, but was hardly finished when it was destroyed by lighting in 1012. Undaunted by this disaster the monks once more set to work and another church was consecrated in 1033. Two centuries later, in 1250, this was burnt to the ground, but Abbot Pierre Mauviel at once commenced a new one. The work was hampered by want of funds and it was not until 1331 that the building was finished. Meanwhile the monastery attained a position of great importance and celebrity. It was renowned for the fervour, no less than for the learning of monks, who during its periods of greatest prosperity numbered over three hundred. Many saints and scholars proceeded from its cloisters. It was especially noted for its library and school, where letters, the fine arts, the sciences, and above all calligraphy, were assiduously cultivated.
One of the most notable of its early copyists was Hardouin, a celebrated mathematician (d. 811) who wrote with his own hand four copies of the Gospels, one of St. Paul's Epistles, a Psalter, three Sacramentaries, and many other volumes of homilies and lives of the saints, besides numerous mathematical works. The Fontenelle "Capitularies" were compiled under Abbot Ansegisus in the eighth century. The monks of St-Wandrille enjoyed many rights and privileges, amongst which were exemption from all river-tolls on the Seine, and the right to exact taxes in the town of Caudebec. The charter, dated 1319, in which were enumerated their chief privileges, was confirmed by Henry V of England and Normandy, in 1420, and by the Council of Basle, in 1436. Commendatory abbots were introduced at Fontenelle on the sixteenth century and as a result the prosperity of the abbey began to decline. In 1631 the central tower of the church suddenly fell, ruining all the adjacent parts, but fortunately without injuring the beautiful cloisters or the conventual buildings.
It was just at this time that the newly formed Congregation of St-Maur was revivifying the monasticism of France, and the commendatory abbot Ferdinand de Neufville invited the Maurists to take over the abbey and do for it what he himself was unable to accomplish. They accepted the offer, and in 1636 set about rebuilding not only the damaged portion of the church, They added new wings and gateways and also built a great chapter-hall for the meetings of the general chapter of the Maurist congregation. They infused new life into the abbey, which for the next hundred and fifty years again enjoyed some of its former celebrity. Then came the Revolution, and with it the extinction of monasticism in France. St-Wandrille was suppressed in 1791 and sold by auction the following year. The church was allowed to fall into ruins, but the rest of the buildings served for some time as a factory. Later on they passed into the possession of the de Stacpoole family, and were turned to domestic uses. The Duke de Stacpoole, who had become a priest and a domestic prelate of the pope, and who lived at Fontenelle until his death, in 1896, restored the entire property to the French Benedictines (Solesmes congregation), and a colony of monks from Ligugé settled there in 1893, under Dom Pothier as superior. This community was expelled by the French government in 1901, and is at present located in Belgium. Besides the chief basilica St-Wandrille built several other churches or oratories both within and without the monastic enclosure. All of these have either perished in course of time, or been replaced by others of later date, except one, the chapel of St-Saturnin, which stands on the hillside overlooking the abbey. It is one of the most ancient ecclesiastical buildings now existing and, though restored from time to time, is still substantially the original erection of St-Wandrille. It is cruciform, with a central tower and eastern apse, and is a unique example of a seventh-century chapel. The parish church of the village of St-Wandrille also dates from the Saint's time, but it has been so altered and restored that little of the original structure now remains.
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