Abbey of Clairvaux
The abbey of Clairvaux (vallis will clara) was founded in 1115 by the monk cistercian Bernard de Clairvaux who was sanctified a few years after his death. The ground dedicated to the establishment of the abbey was selected with precaution: one needed water and wood. This ground offered by a close relative of Bernard included/understood these essential components with the organization of a Cistercian abbey. Indeed, the cistercians must comply with the rule of Saint Benoit who stipulates the life in autarky and the respect of the wish of stability (enfermement).
In fact, architecture cistercian as well with Clairvaux, as Fontenay for example, answers these needs. There are buildings of life (buildings of the monks and convers), commun runs (mills, kitchens, etc) and the Abbatiale dedicated to the prayer. The buildings gathered around the Cloître. The abbey of Clairvaux was thus organized according to the written sources and other riding sights and that until the 18th century.
In 1708 the abbey is rebuilt, the building of the Convers is however preserved because it had become a barn meanwhile. This building of the convers date of the 12th century and it is characteristic of architecture cistercian: the first level included/understood a storeroom and a perfectly identifiable refectory nowadays, the second level was occupied by the dormitory. The unit respects perfectly the notion of art cistercian defined by Saint Bernard: sobriety in opposition to what was practiced then with Cluny. This building of the convers makes today approximately 70 meters length on 15 broad and includes/understands three naves of twelve spans. It is classified Historic building since 1981 and belongs to the ministry for the culture since 2003. Restorations are in hand.
For the other buildings visible with the general public we can mention: the large cloister of classical architecture, building dedicated to the monks of XVIIIe. It also belongs to the Ministère of the culture.
The whole of the abbey was made Bien national in 1792. Industrialists bought the site to install their workshops there (a glassmaking was thus installed in the abbey one). These industrialists made bankruptcy and the site repurchased by the state to make a prison in 1808 of it.
The transformation of abbeys into prisons at the 19th century is current (the Mount-Saint-Michel, Fontevraud etc) and is related to the reform of the penal system which instituted a new penalty: the loss of liberty. Abbeys with their enclosing walls seemed ideal then. The whole of the abbey was thus occupied by the prison: the building of the convers became prison of women then workshops; the large cloister was dedicated to the great male detention. In 1812, the abbey one was unfortunately sold like career with stones to honor with the debts. The head warden was revoked following that because it took place there no more of worship for the prisoners.
The buildings belonging to the ministry for the culture are open all the year to the visits.
- List of the abbots of Clairvaux
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