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Austere Abbaye de Fonteny filled only with light

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 5th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Found in the Burgundy Valley, the Abbaye de Fontenay is a well-restored 12th-century Cistercian monastery founded by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. The inside and outside of the structure is simple and unadorned. While Bernard of Clairvaux did not attempt to reject art or beauty, he was cautious of "those manifestations of beauty which lead the eyes of the mind away from the imago Dei (Image of God) to the imagines mundi (images of the world)." 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Abbey was primarily constructed using stones from the surrounding area. Built in typical Cistercian architecture, the abbey is shaped in the Romanesque style, a Latin cross shape, with a nave 66 meters long and 8 meters wide, two side-aisles, and a transept measuring 19 meters.

Unlike earlier churches, the church of the abbey has a flattened apse and two rectangular, in lieu of semi-circle chapels of each side of the transept. The chapter house is vaulted, with heavy ribs. In addition, there is a large dormitory which was re-roofed in the fifteenth century with an arched braced roof of chestnut timber.

The abbey today retains almost all of its original buildings: church, dormitory, cloister, chapter house, caldarium or "warming room," dovecote and forge, all built in Romanesque style. The sole exception is the long demolished refectory. The abbey buildings today are set in modern manicured parterres of lawn and gravel.

Although there are no flowers in the capitals, no decorative motifs and no images anywhere, the abbey is still an outstanding artwork in and of itself.

The church and the cloister, the center of life and worship for monks, were built in logically distributed spaces. In anticipation of the monastery's expansion and in lieu of creating an enclosed structure, the church and the cloister were created parallel or perpendicular to each other with open ends.

The abbey features no bell tower. St Bernard of Clairvaux apprently was concerned that it might take away from the simplicity and austeriyt of the life. As an alternative, small bells were attached into the wall beside the church door to call lay brothers to gather together.

All Cistercians had a deep love for Our Lady. Some believed that she had helped through her intercession to spare he world and human beings from judgment day in the year 1000 AD. All  The spirit of Cistercian architecture is simple, conservative, utilitarian and self-sufficient, and the abbey is built on these fundamental characteristics.

Their Founder, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, believed that only light should enter the church. Bernard shared the Eastern Christian or Byzantine emphasis that God is the source of all light and one way to experience God's presence is through light.

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