Tuesday, May 17, 2011

They Don't Build Them Like They Used To

The Abbey of St. Wandrille is located in Normandy and was originally founded in 649. Looted by the Vikings in 858, sacked by the Huguenots in 1562, secularized by the Jacobins in 1790, and suppressed by the Third Republic in 1901, the monastery has had a stormy history. The monks have had to abandon it and go into exile on several occasions, most recently from 1901 to 1931.

This Benedictine abbey once boasted a magnificent Gothic church, but a tower collapsed in 1631 and in the 1800's the church was quarried for its stone. Only ruins remain. Rather than try to restore it, the monks in the 1960's purchased a 14th-century farm building from a nearby manor, transported it to the monastery grounds, and converted it into a chapel. The stone exterior is similar enough to that of many old rural churches, except for the somewhat unusual set of double doors in the west façade.

The light flooding in through the windows above the altar and the central location of the crucifix give this church an austere beauty.

The rafters, though, are a reminder that the church used to be a barn. And that is the most remarkable fact about St. Wandrille: This medieval barn, which was originally intended simply to store grain, was constructed so sturdily that it has stood for over half a millennium, and was designed with such grace that it could be turned into a church in the 20th century.

The photograph comes from this site.
The abbey's French Wikipedia page gives a detailed history.
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