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The Abbey of Fontfroide was onetime center of orthodoxy

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 21st, 2012
Catholic Online (

The Abbey of Fontfroide, located in the Languedoc region of southern France is one of the most complete abbey complexes remaining today. Founded as a Benedictine abbey in 1093 and affiliated with the Cistercians in 1145, construction on the church began soon after. The 12th century design there is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture. The monastery was at one time flourishing, recognized as a center of orthodoxy.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Construction there was temporarily interrupted by the turmoil of the Cathar wars. The Albigensian Crusade was spurred on by the murder in 1208 of Pierre de Castelnau, a Fontfroide monk and legate to Pope Innocent III.

Construction on Fontfroide Abbey continued after peace was declared. The influence of Fontfroide soon dominated the entire region -- all the way to Catalonia. A daughter monastery was founded in Poblet.

Two Fontfroide monks went on to gain great fame. Arnaud Nouvel was appointed cardinal, chancellor of the church and eventually papal legate in the proceedings against the Templars. Another Fontfroide monk became Pope Benoìt XII.

The Black Death reached Fontfroide Abbey in 1348 and three-quarters of the monks were lost. The wealthy monastery was put under prebend in 1476.

Abbots of Fontfroide rebuilt many of the monastic buildings and added new features in the 17th and 18th centuries, including an orange grove, terraced garden, an elegant wall in the courtyard and a large gate.

Fontfroide was abandoned by the monks in 1791. The abbey was not damaged during the French Revolution. It became a functioning abbey in 1858 when a small community of monks from Sénaque moved in.

The final abbot, the saintly Père Jean, died in 1895. A law of 1901 put an end to monastic communities, and the last of the monks fled to Spain. The abbey remained empty until 1908, when the property was sold at auction to those who wished to preserve its art and architecture.

Extensive restoration was undertaken to the abbey. Stained-glass windows were fitted, decorative wrought iron filled the window openings and statues and reliefs were added to the walls and gardens. A rose garden of more than 3,000 rosebushes was planted in 1990.

The Abbey of Fontfroide is an excellent example of the monastic town prescribed by Saints Benedict and Bernard, in which everything necessary for simple living is accessible within the monastic complex.

Rooms for prayer such as the church and the cloister, for work, as in the scriptorium and the gardens and for res, as found in the dormitories are all provided.

The enclosed monastic complex of Fontfroide consists of two main areas: one for monks and one for lay brothers. The section reserved for monks is that nearest the church and the cloisters, while the section for lay brothers is that which opens to the outside world.


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