An Abbey Church in Caen

abbey church in Caen

The abbey church of Saint-Étienne is part of the Abbaye aux Hommes (the Men’s Abbey). The abbey is a former Benedictine monastery in Caen in Normandy and dedicated to Saint Stephen. It was founded in 1063 by William the Conqueror and has one of the largest Romanesque churches in France.

abbey church in Caen

Building the Abbey Church

Having founded the abbey in 1063, building began in 1065/1066. It was almost complete in 1077 and therefore was consecrated that year on 13th September in William’s presence. Only the last two bays of the nave and the West façade with its two towers were still to be built. These additional features were completed in 1090.

William chose Caen as he wanted to make the town the capital of the Duchy of Normandy. The building work was rapid due to funding received following the Battle of Hastings as well as readily available materials such as Caen stone and wood.

The size of the church is incredible and it has the grandeur of a cathedral. It measures 110 meters long and over 42 meters wide at the transept. The North tower is the tallest at 82 meters.

abbey church in Caen

Architectural Style and History

The Romanesque nave dates from the 11th and 13th centuries. An important ribbed vault featured was added in about 1120, and was the first time it had been used in France. This abbey, together with the nearby Abbaye Aux Dames, is considered to be a forerunner of the Gothic style. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The choir was rebuilt in the thirteenth century in a Gothic style.

Architectural details of note include the galleries on the first and second levels: the Halbout Chapel; the clock in the North transept gallery installed in 1744; the grand organ made in 1744; the lantern tower; and the rail surrounding the choir.

Caen abbey church

The high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed during the Wars of Religion and was never rebuilt. During the French Revolution the abbey church became a parish church.

From 1804 to 1961 the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church. The Allies were made aware of this and a red cross made from a sheet was place of the rooftop. This showed that it was a hospital and a safe haven. As a result the abbey church was not not destroyed during the bombings which took place in July 1944. The nearby church of Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux was damaged and remains in its ruined state today.

Caen abbey West facade
Caen abbey West facade

The Tomb of William the Conqueror

William’s wife Matilda died in 1083 and was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen. In 1087 William died in Rouen and his body was sent to Caen to be buried in the abbey church as he had requested. When William commissioned the abbey church to be built, he had already decided that it was to be his mausoleum.

The tomb has been disturbed several times since 1087. The first time in 1522 when the grave was opened by envoys from Rome. In 1562, during the French Wars of Religion, the grave was again opened. William’s bones were scattered and lost, with the exception of one thigh bone. This single relic was reburied in 1642. A further destruction of the tomb happened during the French Revolution. The current white marble marker replaced it in the early 19th century. You can see the marble stone in the choir today. It is inscribed in Latin with the words ‘Here is buried the invincible William the Conqueror, King of England and Duke of Normandy; founder of this house, who died in the year 1087.’

Tomb of William the Conqueror

The Abbey

After a series of disasters, the monks of Saint Maur took over the abbey in the late 17th century and decided to rebuild all of the abbey buildings. The Abbaye-aux-Hommes became the City Hall (Le Mairie) in 1963. You can take a paid tour of this 18th-century building. For more information about tours of the abbey visit this site.

Saint Etienne church

Practical Information

The abbey church in Caen is on Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel. You can also access it via rue Guillaume le Conquérant – a small side street leads to the small entrance door. Entry to the abbey church in Caen is free. You can visit Monday to Friday from 9am – 6.30pm, Saturdays from 9am – 6pm and on sundays from 2 – 6.30pm.

Information about more Normandy abbeys is here.

See the video below for a view of the interior of the abbey church.

 

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Longues sur Mer Abbey in Normandy

Longues sur Mer abbey

Introduction

In the quiet village of Longues sur Mer is a beautiful Benedictine abbey dating from the 12th century. The Abbaye de Longues or Abbaye Saint-Marie is nestled on the road leading to Bayeux. Although it’s not far from the Omaha and Gold D-Day landing beaches it wasn’t bombed during the Battle of Normandy. It had however already fallen into decline some centuries before. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to explore and you can see how the abbey would have looked in its heyday.

abbey church at Longues sur Mer

The Abbey’s History

The abbey was founded in 1168 in the Calvados department of Normandy. The first monks came from Hambye Abbey located some 70 kilometers away in La Manche department. Many of the the buildings date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The western facade of the Abbot’s House was re-done during the 18th century.

abbot's house at Longues sur Mer

The abbey comprised the following building/structures:- a gatehouse, coach house, barn, abbey church, cloister, chapter room, refectory, kitchen, scriptorium or library, infimary, lay quarters, abbot’s house, dovecot, farm buildings and various gardens. The cloister was in the centre with the other buildings accessible from it.

In line with many other Normandy abbeys, Longues sur Mer abbey fell into decline starting in 1526. Successive abbots didn’t invest in the abbey and by 1640 the nave of the church had fallen into ruin. As a result, the abbey eventually closed in 1782. Some of the stones were quarried and further decline continued until 1915 when it was designated as an historical monument.

Restoration

An American, Charles Dewey, bought the abbey in 1932 and started the restoration process. In 1964 the abbey was sold to the French d’Angeljan family. The family have continued to restore the Longues sur Mer abbey and so in January 2006 it was classified as an historical monument.

Visiting Longues sur Mer Abbey

Thanks to the efforts of the current and previous owners, you can visit the abbey today. During visiting times the wooden doors of the ornate stone gatehouse are open. The gatehouse dates from the 14th century. The owners often greet visitors and they speak English. I was fortunate to be met by Hannah, an American who was undertaking a summer internship at the abbey. We chatted as we walked over to the coach house which is immediately to the left of the gate house. I picked up a leaflet and Hannah gave me a laminated sheet about the abbey. English and French versions are available.

You can then walk round the abbey at your own pace following the numbered arrows. However, take some time to look at the information boards and photos in the coach house. They give more information about how the abbey used to look and the history of the buildings you’re about to discover.

The Visit

If you stand in the main courtyard with your back to the gate house this is what you’ll see.

Longues sur Mer abbey

The abbey church is on the left. The abbot’s house is in the centre and to the far right is the refectory. The abbot’s house is now lived in by the French owners so it’s not possible to visit. However, you may be lucky enough to be invited into the La Salle de la Source and see the spring water running underneath the building. The western facade of the abbot’s house is particularly stunning. It was re-done in the 18th century to create a good impression because this side of the building is what guests would have seen.

There’s a central path down to the remains of the abbey church and this is the first stop on your visit.

The Abbey Church

As you walk towards the church’s ruins you’ll be walking where the nave used to be. The nave was attached to the abbot’s house and created the south side of the cloister. What remains of the abbey church is the choir or chancel and part of the northern transept. As you reach the choir, remember there would have been a lantern tower here. You can visit the transept but not the choir. You can, happily, see into the choir but it’s not safe to go inside. Pause to look at the architectural details here.

Longues sur Mer

The Cloister and the Chapter House

Follow the route past what remains of the southern transept. You’re now walking along what would have been the galleried cloister. To your left are two windows which are the remains of the chapter house.

chapter house Longues sur Mer

Before you continue, take a look at the rear of the abbot’s house. The eastern side of the building is very simple and in stark contrast to the western facade.

The Gardens

The gap in the hedge leads to the first of three gardens. The first garden is a formal garden of box hedges and flowers. It’s on the site of the former cemetery and affords a wonderful view of the southern side of the abbey church. Continue through to the vegetable garden and finally into the medicinal herb garden.

benedictine abbey church

The Monks’ Refectory

This huge barn was constructed in the 14th century. The refectory would have completed the south side of the cloister.

It originally had 3 floors; the ground floor was the refectory, the first floor was the dormitory and the top floor was a small chapel. There’s some fascinating architectural detail in the refectory. The displays of glazed floor tiles and three tombstones of the abbey’s benefactors are wonderful. These were discovered in the ruins of the abbey in 1932 by Charles Dewey. There are also interesting decorations high up on the walls. Leave through the main door, exit through the garden and you’re back in the abbey’s courtyard. If you walk along the south side of the refectory you’ll see the remains of a staircase on the far corner of the building.

Practical Information

Longues sur Mer abbey is located at 17 rue de l’abbaye, 14400 Longues-sur-Mer. There’s a car park that is clearly marked from the main road. Park here and then walk back to the main road through the gate you’ve driven through. The buildings adjacent to the car park are private although they belong to the abbey. The entrance is via the gatehouse.

Longues sur Mer abbey

The abbey is open from May through to July from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive. Opening hours are 2 – 6pm. There’s more information on this website or you can follow the abbey on Facebook @AbbayedeLongues. It costs 5€ to visit and under 18s go free.

The abbey has been selected to participate in the 2019 heritage lottery for some much-needed restoration funds. You can watch the video below to see an aerial view of the abbey. But do go and visit in person to experience the calm and serene surroundings as you’re transported back through the centuries.

If this has whetted your appetite, then here are 10 more Normandy abbeys and castles to visit.

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE

Normandy's Mont St Michel

Normandy's Mont St Michel

Day 3 of my Normandy Advent Calendar sharing my favourite things about Normandy. Mont St Michel is right at the top of my list of all that I love about Normandy. Yes, it can get busy during the summer holidays but it's to be expected as it's a UNESCO world heritage site. However, many people visit the restaurants, bars and tourist shops in the main street without venturing up to the abbey. When you get up to the abbey, there are less people and you can avoid the crowds by taking a quieter route. There's something magical about Mont St Michel – particularly when you catch your first glimpse of it from a distance. As you get closer, the excitement grows. They abbey is definitely worth a visit but an audio guide is recommended.

Recommended by Chris from Normandy Gite Holidays www.normandygiteholidays.com
#normandyadventcalendar #montstmichel #normandy #abbey

 

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The cloister at Mont St Michel

The cloister at Mont St Michel

The cloister’s function was to provide access to all the essential rooms: the refectory, kitchens, church, dormitory, chapter hall and the archives. Only the north gallery, looking out towards the sea, was not meant to serve as a way of communication with other rooms. The principal functions of monastic life, except for work and reception, were therefore distributed around the cloister. It also served as the place set aside for the monk’s personal meditation.

Posted by Chris at www.normandygiteholidays.com

#NormandyTownsAndVillages #NormandyGiteHolidays #montstmichel #cloister #abbey

 

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Gothic architecture in Normandy

Gothic architecture in Normandy

The abbey church in Hambye, Normandy, is a fine example of Gothic architecture. The Benedictine abbey was founded in 1145 with the abbey church being built over a period of 150 years. The abbey prospered until 1810 when it was put up for sale and parts of the church were dismantled for its stone. The picture shows what remains of the church today. Hambye is a 15 minute drive from Gavray.

Photo and post by Chris of Gavray Gites
#normandy #normandie #hambye #gavray #hambyeabbey #abbey #gothicabbey

 

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Resting place of William the Conqueror in Normandy

abbey in Caen

The Abbaye Aux Hommes in Caen, Normandy is the original resting place of William the Conqueror. The abbey was founded by William in 1063 and he was buried here in 1083.

Post by Chris of Gavray Gites. Credit for the photo to mynormandie.fr More photos of the exterior and interior of the abbey can be found on their website and facebook page.

#caen #williamtheconqueror #normandy #benadictineabbey #abbey

 

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