Thanks to an exceptional state of preservation, visiting the Abbey of Fontenay allows visitors to plunge into a monastic atmosphere of great simplicity and purity, as was the life of the Cistercian monks for six centuries, from the foundation of the abbey in 1118 to the French Revolution of 1789.
Abbey of Fontenay
Marmagne, 21500 Montbard
Website - tel : 03 80 92 15 00.
Full price / reduced price for an open visit : €10/ €7
Full price / reduced rate for a guided tour : €12.50 / €7.90
Open daily from April through October: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ; November through March: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. / 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Guided tours (1 hour) are available from April through October. Outside this period, visits are open (not guided). A tour booklet is available in 7 languages.
Entertainment: June through September, the abbey schedules entertainment as part of the "Summer of Fontenay" event, including concerts, evening tours, exhibitions, sound and light shows ...
Services: lapidary museum, boutique of handicraft and souvenirs.
This artistic masterpiece, built between 1139 and 1147, represents the ultimate expression of austerity and simplicity of the Cistercian order. The abbey church was built on a Latin basilica cross layout, 66 meters long. The nave has two aisles, and its vast transept (which rises to a height of 19 meters) and square-shaped choir with a flat chevet are typical of Cistercian art of this period. The south transept opens to the monks ' dormitory through a staircase. The church also had a porch but it was destroyed in the 18th century for lack of resources to maintain it. The interior decoration of the building is almost non-existent, adhering to the philosophy advocated by this order of monks initiated by Saint Bernard : nothing was to distract the monks from their mission. This sobriety adds to the sense of unity and harmony of the ensemble. The statuary of the church depicts a Virgin and Child from the 13th century and a statue of Our Lady of Fontenay from the late 13th century. The other ornaments of the church include an altarpiece from the Gothic altar and tombstones of Lord Mello d’Epoisses and his wife, located in the choir (14th century).
The cloister is accessed next to the staircase leading to the dormitory.
The monks' dormitory
The dormitory is located on the first floor of the building, above the chapter house. It is here that the monks fell asleep on their benches, admiring the magnificent oak beams from the 15th century. The previous structure was destroyed by fire and was therefore replaced by the current gambrel roof (shaped like an overturned vessel).
The cloister, with its exceptional preservation and beauty, was built at the same time as the church (12th century). A nice place for walking and meditation, the heart of the abbey was where life was organized. Measuring 36 meters by 38 meters, the four galleries, though they compose a nice ensemble, contain some differences in construction (walls and vaults) and the capitals have different styles. The east gallery adjoins the nave and connects to the dormitory by a set of stairs.
The chapter house
Located on the ground floor of the building under the dormitory, it was in this room, called the chapter house, that important community decisions were made. Every morning an excerpt was read from the Rule of Saint Benedict. Originally composed of three sections, one of them was destroyed by fire in the 15th century. During the restoration of the early 20th century, the partition that separated the chapter room from the parlor was removed. The only ornamentation in the room is found in the floral keystones. It is lined on the north side by the sacristy and, in accordance with Cistercian architecture, connects to the cloister.
The monks' room
This long room (30 meters) is located in the continuity of the chapter house. Among its various functions, it housed the copyists, monks who copied manuscripts.
The warming room
This small room still features two fireplaces from the 12th century. The monks probably used this room to get warm in winter. Along with the kitchen and the bakery, it was the the only room that had a fireplace, in accordance with the rules of community life at the monastery.
Though its foundations are Romanesque, the hospital building, situated next to the garden and separated from the other buildings, was built in the 18th century.
The ironworks is a rare example of an industrial building of the 12th century and probably unique in its typical Cistercian architecture. Situated along the river, it is one of the oldest metallurgical plants in Europe. At 53 meters long, this large building housed the ironworks. The monks worked iron extracted from the hill overlooking the monastery. They used water power to operate the swifts for striking the iron and the bellows. The furnaces, mill and workshop were located within the four rooms. Today the abbey features a reconstruction of a hydraulic hammer and a vintage water wheel.
Behind the warming room, this room was renovated in the 16th century. Here the monks kept important and valuable objects.
The refectory (not open to visits)
Destroyed in 1745 due to a lack of the resources required to maintain it, the only remains of this Gothic building is a wall with four windows. In 1850, the Marc Seguin gallery was built on the site of the former refectory and kitchens.
The abbots’ house
The building adjoining the west side of the cloister was built in the 18th century to accommodate the abbots from the Commende reform (appointed by the King starting from 1547). The elegance of the building contrasts with the rest of the architectural ensemble.
The dovecote dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Its walls are more than a meter thick.
The foreigners’ chapel and bakery
The abbey welcomed pilgrims and visitors and for them, a chapel was built : the foreigners’ chapel. The building that now houses the library and lapidary museum was where they could meditate, because those from outside the community could not enter the monastic enclosure.
The Lapidary Museum features has some sculptures and architectural details from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Bakery : accessed through the library. The magnificent circular fireplace once served as a bread oven.
This building housed the porter. The latter, accompanied by a dog, was responsible for monitoring access to the abbey. Visitors can still see the dog kennel to the right of the stairs leading to the first floor.
The herb garden
Here the monks cultivated garden plants and medicinal herbs in accordance with a well-defined list determined by the Rule of Saint Benedict.
The grand garden
The abbey gardens are classified as "remarkable gardens". They were created on two hectares by landscape architect Peter Holmes in 1997. Everything has been designed to enhance the beauty of the land and the abbey. The gardens consist of a French garden and landscaped gardens, featuring many varieties of flowers, plants, water features and trees. The last scenes of the film "Cyrano de Bergerac" were shot here in 1989.
Activities in the area
The valley where the abbey is located is an ideal place for walking or cycling. Several paths have been constructed. Information available at the information desk of the abbey.