Nestled in a green valley in the Languedoc region of southern France not far from Narbonne, the Abbey of Fontfroide is one of the most complete abbey complexes remaining today.
History of Fontfroide Abbey
The Abbey of Fontfroide was founded as a Benedictine abbey in 1093 and affiliated with the Cistercians in 1145. Construction on the church began soon after.
The cloisters and chapter house date from the 12th century and are excellent examples of Romanesque architecture. The monastery flourished and soon became a center of orthodoxy.
However, construction of Fontfroide was temporarily interrupted by the turmoil of the Cathar wars. It was the murder in 1208 of Pierre de Castelnau, a Fontfroide monk and legate to Pope Innocent III, that led to the Albigensian Crusade.
After peace was restored, construction on Fontfroide Abbey continued. The influence of Fontfroide soon dominated the entire region, all the way to Catalonia, and a daughter monastery was founded in Poblet.
Two Fontfroide monks in particular gained 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.
In 1348, the Black Death reached Fontfroide Abbey and three-quarters of the monks were lost. In 1476, the wealthy monastery was put under prebend.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, abbots of Fontfroide rebuilt many of the monastic buildings and added new features including an orange grove, terraced garden, an elegant wall in the courtyard, and a large gate.
The last of the monks left Fontfroide in 1791, but the abbey was not damaged during the Revolution. In 1858 it became a functioning abbey once again when a small community of monks from Sénaque moved in.
The last 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 uninhabited until 1908, when the property was sold at auction to those who wished to preserve its art and architecture.
Under this new ownership, extensive restoration was undertaken: stained-glass windows were fitted, decorative wrought iron filled the window openings, and statues and reliefs were added to the walls and gardens. In 1990, a rose garden of more than 3000 rosebushes was planted.
What to See at Fontfroide Abbey
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.
The various buildings thus provide room for prayer (the church and the cloister), for work (the scriptorium and the gardens) and for rest (the dormitories), as well as food and drink to sustain the monks and lay brothers.
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.
The abbey buildings are arranged around the flow of water, which was needed for the gardens, the cloisters, the corn mill and the fish ponds.
The former outbuildings of the abbey have been completely restored and transformed into a visitors' area that includes a restaurant, a gift shop, and a wine cellar.
The restaurant is open the same hours as the monastery. In the cellar, you can taste the Corbières Blanc produced at Fontfroide as well as the Corbières Rouge and the Rosé of St. Julien de Séptieme from the vineyards of the oldest Fontfroide grange which is situated immediately next to the starting point of route D613.
Via the A 9 motorway (Languedocienne), exit at Narbonne Sud or via the A 61 motorway (Autoroute de deux mers), exit at Lézignan-Corbières. From Narbonne Sud exit, the way to Fontfroide is clearly sign-posted. You follow the N113 towards Lézignan-Corbieres and then the D611 towards Bizanet.
Quick Facts on Fontfroide Abbey
|Names:||Abbaye de Fontfroide · Fontfroide Abbey|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.127492° N, 2.898390° E|
|Phone:||04 68 45 50 71|
|Hours:||Open daily except Dec 25 and Jan 1|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Fontfroide Abbey|
- Personal visit (July 3, 2008).
- Abbaye de Fontfroide - official website
- Abbaye de Fontfroide - Architecture Religieuse en Occident
Map of Fontfroide Abbey, France
Below is a location map and aerial view of Fontfroide Abbey. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.