Fontenay Abbey: Au Revoir Bourgogne

Having hit 130 days of nonstop travel, our EU Austerity Drinking Tour needs a moment of sober solace. The last three days in Burgundy have climbed Beaune’s premier cru vineyards, visited the Hospice de Beaune, and Dijon’s medieval gems.

Today we wake at 9am, feast on chocolate croissants, then hop train to Montbard.  Our small map puts famed Fontenay Abbey nearby.  Since UNESCO declared Fontenay a World Heritage Site on our birth-year, it must be worth a day trip.  But the 6 kilometer march, without sidewalk, near freezing, turn this into surprise penance.

Halfway, our tired feet discover a lovely ancient chapel:

MontbardChapelBut that’s not it.  The one lane road takes a turn, and we discover…cows!

Burgundy CowsWe keep going but feel lost. Cars and people have evaporated. Finally, the gate to Fontenay emerges, shrouded by trees.

Fontenay GateReally? Seriously? That’s it? We just walked 6km for this?

But then we enter a time capsule, a world trapped between the Romanesque and Medieval. Here poor, pious Cistercians worked a self-sufficient life. They founded it in 1118 because their founding Abbey wasn’t austere (aka miserable) enough.

First stop, church:

Fontenay ChurchA Bishop on the run funded and founded the massive chapel in 1147.

Fontenay Church InteriorWe feel small beneath its simple, weighty, arches. Divine light was the only coloration. Little decorates it beyond a few patterned tiles and a columnar Mary and child:

Fontany MaryWith a thin wrap of Christmas LEDs…it is Novemeber after all. However, such minimal decor opens our eyes to smaller details, like the almost Alhambra-esque pointed arches:

Fontenay Church ArchesAfter church, we head to the massive, vaulted dormitories.

Fontenay DormitoriesBunk beds once lined this massive, cold, shared space. Just imagine college but with 300 roomies in an echo chamber.  We head below to the stump forest courtyard:

Fontenay CoutyardAdjacent to the courtyard, the most impressive tropical forest supports the massive dorm room above.

Fontenay Understory ArchesThese vaults connect to the Kitchen:

Fontenay KitchenAlbeit amazing, we soon realize we have yet to see any of the typical anthropomorphic carvings or delights of other chapels, churches, or monasteries. Fontenay was a deprivation chamber. Only thought of the divine had a place here.

But there was always work.  Like a bookend to the Basilica, on the other end of the campus, was the forge:

Fontenay Iron Forge The backdoor of this basilica opened to a real iron mine: convenient!

Fontenay Iron MineThen excavated iron ore was then brought into the main hall, where the massive furnace heated it for smelting and production of tools.

Fontenay Iron FurnaceHowever, these monks were as smart as they were hardworking. That hammer is attached to a massive, churning, hydraulic wheel: making it Europe’s first metallurgical factory, possibly its first industrial plant.

Fontenay Water WheelAt least that’s what the overly proud French plaque claims.

Later years saw English kings and Popes visit Fontenay. The French revolution turned it into a paper mill.  Turn of the last century restorations returned Fontenay’s austere charm.

Fontenay Tracy AaronThe campus feels calm, committed, and pure.

I freeze outside trying to draw it, while my smarter wife enjoys the museum. Then we face our hike back to Montbard. The world turns from Burgundian pale grey to something more brooding, deep, blue, and fired with pink flame.

Fontenay Days EndThen it rains.

We soak for our three hour our walk back to Montbard’s station (with a grocery store dinner between). But the day and abbey cleared our minds, preparing fresh ground for a trip out of France, to stick our toes in Luxemburg. Although only in Burgundy four days, we must leave before we get too attached, and before the fish starts to stinks as my grandmother once said.


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2 Responses to Fontenay Abbey: Au Revoir Bourgogne

  1. sand110 says:

    If the monks were that smart they would have cultivated grapes of some kind.

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