Magnificent Priories in the Mountains of Savoy
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Magnificent Priories in the Mountains of Savoy

From the 10th century, monasteries began to invade the rocky wildernesses and snowy forests of Savoy. You will discover a number of picturesque priories and abbeys whose most famous is the Grande Chartreuse founded by Saint-Bruno in 1185. The most beautiful is no doubt the extraordinary Priory of Le Bourget-du-Lac with its intact and magnificent rood screen, stained glass windows and cloisters. It was founded by Saint Odilo of Cluny in the 9th century.

Life was poor in the small villages of Savoy and Dauphiné, cut off from the valleys and great towns for long winter months by snow. People had to live from their own resources, and were thrown back onto the protection of the saints for their health, if they were not to trust the witches. They hardly ever went to the cathedral town except on fine days, feast days or for a pilgrimage. 

So, from the 10th century, monasteries began to invade these rocky wildernesses and snowy forests, to set up routes through them. The Benedictines of Saint-Martin of Ainay established themselves at Lemenc, and monks from Cluny at Le Bourget-du-Lac (whose priory has an absolutely magnificent rood screen) and Aiguebelle; in Faucigny, they founded the priories of Peillonex and Contamine-sur-Arve. The Cistercians moved into Hautecombe, then Tamié and Talloires, while the nuns chose Bonlieu. But none could rival the prestige of the Carthusians, an order founded in 1185 by Saint-Bruno in the hills above Grenoble.

"For his home, Saint-Bruno chose a steep, quite terrifying hilltop that could be reached only by a little-used and very difficult path; above is a valley at the foot of a sudden precipice...thirteen monks lived there", wrote Guibert de Nogent. The first wooden monastery was destroyed by an avalanche, and the monks built a vast complex a few kilometres away, the Grande-Chartreuse, from which they spread throughout the whole region.

Savoy has some very beautiful examples of this early Romanesque Art. The oldest is the baptistery of Lemenc, a strange rotunda with ambulatory, topped with a dome held up by archaic columns. On the façade of the priory of Aime, we can see the decorative festoons of the Lombardic Style, and the small patterns of the early Romanesque, made of greyish pebbles from the mountains. If we add to these a few crypts - those of Moutiers and Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - and a dozen old churches, we still have listed more or less all that remains of this art that was once so rich with masterpieces. 

Apse of the Priory of Le Bourget-du-Lac. It was founded in the 9th century by Odilo of Cluny.

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East gallery of the cloisters at the Priory of Le Bourget-du-Lac.

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Palm Sunday, detail of the magnificent rood screen at Le Bourget-du-Lac Priory.

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The Discovery of The Christ's Tomb , detail of the rood screen at Le Bourget-du-Lac Priory.

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Saint-paul, stained glass window of the 15th century. Priory of Le Bourget-du-Lac.

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Comments (1)

Very nicely presented dear Francois.