Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Abbaye de Silvacane (Silvacane Abbey), La Roque d'Antheron

Despite it being a little chilly this weekend we dragged ourselves out of the house to the Abbaye de Silvacane near the village of La Roque d'Antheron.


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!


  1. What an amazing place! I just love the picture of the blue door. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing. I majored in Religion (great major—if you want to have no idea what you're going to do in the world after college!), and spent a lot of time in churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. Your photos make me reminisce about a great class I took while I was living in Egypt, called Art & Architecture of the City of Cairo. It's incredible how domes work!

  3. What a peaceful place to live. Everything about it is so relaxing and calming. The blossom looks perfect, very pretty too. What wonderful places you visit, so glad you are making so much effort to see as much as you can and experience such wonderful historical places. I can only imagine how much fun your little one had in there with his voice! Such fun.
    Sarah x

  4. Ahh, not been to this one, but I can definitely see similarities with Senanque (minus the ubiquitous lavender of course!) Must remember to go and check it out some time...

  5. Bonjour Kirsty, thank you for taking me on this armchair travel excursion. Love the photos, The close up of the blossom....mmmmm, can almost smell that and the blue door.... very french and whimsical!
    @ Bits 'n Bobs

  6. Gorgeous photos! I love the one looking back at the door, the detail of the leaves on the column and the room where the monks slept. I couldn't agree more with your description of the place as pure and beautiful - those words floated through my mind several times while looking at the photos. How luck to have the place all to yourselves! Oh - and loved the story about your two year old trying out his echo on those bare walls. My three year old would have loved doing the same thing! Thanks for sharing this ethereal place with all of us...

  7. What no chandeliers?
    Thank you for sharing Kirsty. The architecture is striking in it's simplicity. Such beautiful work. Love your blossoms photos and that gorgeous blue door and window too.

  8. I've never been inside, thanks for the visit. I have been to a few piano concerts there during the festival in August.

  9. Stunning! 'Pure and beautiful' is right. Maybe the style is more attractive to us today because of the modern less is more aesthetic; back then more was definitely just more!!

  10. Kirsty, your photographs are outstanding! Now I"m wanting to visit this very special and serene place myself. I love the photos of the children as well. They do give a sense of scale. AMazing.

  11. Le sigh indeed. Gorgeous photos! Viva la France!

  12. Wow. It is breathtaking. I bet it was absolutely stunning when it was new. It would have been plenty distracting for me. And I'm liking this idea of mass public confession. Effective and entertaining :)

  13. The cistercians built incredible abbeys around Europe. I visited a couple of them and was impressed by the size and simplicity. It was a very strict rule but I guess that it gave a kind of protection in those rough times. Maybe we would need the same kind of protection nowadays.....

  14. Viva la irreverent toddler! Those walls of secrets pain subterfuge joy devotion seclusion confession were surely smiling.
    I certainly am! This is such an inexpensive French holiday Kirsty... Thanks! Esp want the blue door...

  15. so very beautiful. i imagine that it would have seemed far less romantic back in the day with the harsh conditions that dwelling there would have presented. that blue door, magnifique.

  16. Merci beaucoup Kirsty for these photos...I adore places like this, and have a special interest in medieval buildings just because they are such amazing structures from an age when everything was built manually and was so labour intensive. The vaulting in the ceilings is magnificent, and that outside reflection shot is delightful. I am envious....(now I should go and make a public confession as I'm sure envy was a sin)!!!

  17. Visiting from Design Mom's link-up. Wow! What an amazing place, beautiful images, and interesting info! So glad I stopped by!

  18. As I drooled over your photos, it was not until I got to the ones with the children that I had a sense of the scale... just magnificent and I love how you have captured the scant details of design carved into the stones.

    I'm ready to move into that abode with the blue door!


  19. Really beautiful! Such a serene place! (Until someone tests his vocal chords against the vaulted ceilings ... ;-)) I'm a bit jealous of your spring flowers! Beautiful! In Finland we call it spring when the asphalt is visible again after months of being covered under snow and ice (you can imagine what else surfaces at the same time ...) We're very excited about that here! :-D


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...