When Cistercian Rule Guided Architecture in Burgundy
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When Cistercian Rule Guided Architecture in Burgundy

The Cistercian Order might not have had such an enormous expansion had the young aristocrat Bernard, born at the castle of Fontaines near Dijon, not decided, at the age of 22, to renounce the world and join the 32 Burgundians at the Monastery of Cîteaux. In 1115, the young monkwas enjoined to establish the Cistercian Rule at Cîteaux in Champagne, and soon the success of the Rule led to new foundations, at Fontenay, Pontigny and Morimond. The little wattle-and-daub hermitages became monasteries of stone.

As Cluny became weighed down with its wealth it lost its role of model for new foundations, and Vézelay was not the only place to resist its sway. A young Benedictine, Robert, Prior of Provins, left his native region to set up a small community of men devoted to the ideal of poverty in the forest of Molesmes. When pilgrims flocked there bearing gifts, he was forced to go further afield, to the forest of Cîteaux, twenty kilometres from Dijon. These monks of Cîteaux sought to follow all the austerity of the original Rule of Saint-Benedict, rejecting all the "cowls and cloaks, muslins and hoods, bedspreads and fancy food". They divided their life between prayer and work on the land. 

The Cistercian Order might not have had such an enormous expansion had the young aristocrat Bernard, born at the castle of Fontaines near Dijon, not decided, at the age of 22, to renounce the world and join the 32 Burgundians at the Monastery of Cîteaux. In 1115, the young monk was enjoined to establish the Cistercian Rule at Cîteaux in Champagne, and soon the success of the Rule led to new foundations, at Fontenay, Pontigny and Morimond. The little wattle-and-daub hermitages became monasteries of stone. 

Geoffroy de Rochetaillé, a cousin of Bernard, began to build the abbey of Notre-Dame at Fontenay in a secluded valley in the forest of Châtillon-sur-Seine. The exiled bishop of Norwich generously offered funds; the abbey was consecrated in 1147 by Pope Eugenius III, and became caught up in the spirit of the Cistercian Reform. The small nave of the church, surmounted with a broken barrel vault, was lit merely by openings in the façade; the lines were kept sober, everything was stripped to its bare essentials, and the whole brought out the grandeur of the conception and encouraged the monks in their contemplation.

Somewhat to the north, in the flat and marshy land of the Yonne, Pontigny was built on the banks of the Serein. The church is sited at the end of a fine avenue of trees, and resembles a vast barn, a barn for the harvest of the Lord, one in which the apse ends in a play of radiating chapels. The same concern for austerity dominates the nave, with its huge dimensions, its ribbed vaults and its row of columns so long that its very monotony seems to inspire meditation. The windows have nothing but plain glass, the capitals have simple crosses; yet the overall proportions are so confident that nothing can distract the soul from its inner visions. 

It was to Pontigny that Thomas Becket came as Archbishop of Canterbury between 1164 and 1170 when he needed peace from his conflicts with Henry II. "A divine geometry", as Michelet put it; but even so, the bell-tower did not survive the French Revolution. As time went on, even the Cistercians came to relax their Rule, and the irreverent Voltaire was to speak more highly of their Nuits-Saint-Georges than of their prayers. The Revolution was kind to the wine but not to the abbey, which was used as a quarry until 1870, when the archbishop of Sens bought the ruins. In the 20th century, Pontigny again became renowned, this time for its conferences, the famous "decades", guiding the spirit of the age.

Photos:

Abbey of Pontigny as seen from the south: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Pontigny.JPG?uselang=fr

The magnificent choir of the Abbey of Pontigny: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Pontigny44.jpg?uselang=fr

Entrance of the Abbey of Pontigny: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/Abbaye_de_Pontigny_-_Abbatiale_-_Exterieur_03.jpg?uselang=fr

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Excellent information.

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