Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Abbey of Fontenay, June 13

It turned out to be a beautiful day for a bike ride and a visit to the Abbey of Fontenay, a Unesco World Heritage site.
Founded by Saint Bernard in 1118, the Abbey is one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys, the order being founded in 1098.
From the visitors guide-“The Cistercians wished to reform monastic life and apply the rule of St Benedict from the 6th century which prescribes a life of poverty, self-sufficiency and solitude.”
The monks did considerable work to drain the somewhat swampy land that the Abbey now sits on and between the 12th and 15th centuries more than 200 monks made up the totally self-sufficient community. They owned a large estate that contained their farm and livestock and they also created an innovative forge, the first of it’s kind in Europe. 
In the 16th century, the Abbot was no longer elected by the monks but appointed by the king and the Abbey went into decline. By the time of the Revolution, there were only about twelve monks living there and the Abbey was sold to the State. In 1820 the estate was bought by Elie de Montgolfier (of hot-air balloon fame) and turned into a paper mill.
In 1906, Edouard Aynard, a wealthy banker from Lyon, purchased the property and began it’s restoration, “extracting Fontenay from its industrial coating.” All of the buildings of the paper mill that had disfigured the site were demolished.
The Abbey still belongs to the Aynard family. It was a beautiful day and it’s a magnificent site. 
Our canal guide book told us to get there early as it can become crowded. We arrived just as it opened and had only one tour bus full, easily avoided, to contend with.

From the entrance, the Seguin Gallery and “L’enfermerie”.

The Abbey church

The cloister

The dovecote and the kennels
with the church behind

In the garden

A plaque on the wall in the large building housing the forge explained the importance of the “factory”.
“The Forge of Fontenay erected around 1220 … is the first metallurgical factory in Europe and the place of the invention of the hydraulic hammer. This invention became the basis of industrial manufacturing of iron in Europe.” No more blacksmith hammering his anvil. Now a water wheel did the hard work.
The iron ore was mined in a hill above the Abbey and the product, bars and tools, were sold in the surrounding area. After turning powering the hammer, the stream ended in a small pond in which the monks grew trout. The Fontenay trout became famous in the region.

After a very enjoyable morning we cycled back to the boat and made preparations for departure on Friday. Except when we got back to the boat we found a note taped to the window telling us that a hotel barge would be arriving that afternoon and needed our spot. Luckily there was plenty of room for us to move. La Belle Epoque arrived around 6 pm and after we helped the captain tie up he informed us that he would be leaving the next morning but we were welcome to go first; a great thing since those big barges go very slow and if we didn’t we’d be very late for our next objective, Veneray les Laumes. Later we were treated to a mini-concert as when their passengers arrived back after whatever activity they had been engaged in for the day, a small old-timey jazz band performed for their aperitif.
Friday morning Cathy Jo hurried over to the marché for cherries and some fresh shelling peas while I got the boat ready to go. Just before 9 am we pushed off and headed further up the canal.


  1. The Abby looks magnificent. What a beautiful setting with wonderfully maintained buildings. Your weather is looking great too. I need to catch up with your previous posts now my work is done. It will be hard to keep the envy at bay knowing we can't move. Even our short trip on my home barge in Rotterdam has had to be postponed. I shall just have to cruise vicariously this year.

  2. It is a beautiful place and amazing that a private citizen took it upon himself to put out what what must have been a substantial sum to restore the Abbey.
    Sorry about the cruising. Looking forward to a Hennie H update.


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