There are three Cistercian abbeys in Provence and this is one of 'em (the other two are Le Thoronet and Sénanque Abbeys).
The Cistercians are an enclosed order of nuns and monks who believe in material poverty, austerity, work (especially manual labour) and prayer.
The church was built by the Cistercians between 1175 and 1220, with the remaining parts of the structure (and other outbuildings) constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The fortunes of the Abbey waxed and waned - at one stage the property was used as a farm - before the French government bought the church in 1845. The rest of the property wasn't purchased until 1945 and obviously considerable restoration works have been required.
So let's go in!
Looking back at the church doorway
Looking forward to the altar
The church was built to adhere to Cistercian rule, i.e functional and devoid of any ornamentation that could distract from prayer.
For those who dig architecture, it's mainly Romanesque with Gothic elements and has all sorts of naves, bays, transepts, transoms, culots and dosserets. Please do not ask me what any of these are.
It's simply enormous. You can see our seven yr old off the left there to give you an idea of scale:
While the Cistercians succeeded in curtailing the decorations, I don't know how they thought this architecture could qualify as non-distracting - it's so pure and beautiful.
This was the most ornate item I could find in the church, on the wall adjacent to the altar. Whatever used to rest on the pedestal is now gone:
To the left of the church was the cloister - a paved square/garden surrounded by covered corridors like this one:
You can see the garden area (where a water source is located) through the arches.
Speaking of the internal cloister arches, they've all deteriorated over the years but one has been restored to its original form:
On the top of the columns you'll see some stylised leaves - the only decoration motif the order allowed - and they appear elsewhere throughout the monastery.
This was the dormitory where the monks slept on straw mattresses:
Through this doorway is the chapter house where a chapter from the Rule of St Benedict was read each day:
The monks also made their public confession here. I'm tipping a lot of the world's problems could be solved if we brought in mass public confession. Can you imagine how embarrassing that would be?
Aren't those ceilings something else? This room was apparently constructed later in the 13th century, when the decorating rules had been relaxed a wee bit.
The windows in the refectory (eating hall), where the monks ate in silence listening to a religious text reading:
This room was where the monks did their book work (the Cistercians were the brainiacs of the medieval era) and was the only heated room in the monastery. Yikes.
Fireplace on the left there
When the two year old discovered how melodiously his voice echoed off the vaulted ceilings we went for a little wander around outside.
Original stonework and some new (and old) restorations
Over a stone wall we could see the ruins of other outbuildings that've been discovered:
We also enjoyed some early spring blossoms:
Silvacane Abbey is part of a 'privileged visitor' program where you can gain cheaper access to other sites in the partnership. Because we'd visited Lourmarin Castle earlier this year, we got in a little cheaper.
After our stomp around the Abbey we headed to Cucuron for lunch - but that's another post for later this week.
Cucuron, in the lower Luberon Valley. *le sigh*
I'm linking up again to Design Mom's Love the Place you Live. Pop over there for more armchair travel!