France overflows with medieval religious heritage, for which neither national nor local authorities seem to care. One of the victims is the Abbey of Fontenelle at La Roche-sur-Yon
The abbey of Fontenelle at La Roche-sur-Yon was founded in 1210 by Guillaume de Mauléon, Lord of Talmont (1150-1214), and his wife Beatrice de Machecoul (1185 -1235). She was the Lady of La Roche-sur-Yon and Luçon. They made a donation to found the Abbey, first to the order of St. Benedict, later to a group of regular Augustinian canons, who came from the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Chancelade in Perigord. According to letters, a dispute broke out in 1225 between the Abbots of Fontanelle and Marmoutier, which led to a rededication of the Abbey to the Augustinians. The high altar of the abbey church was consecrated in 1248 by the bishop of Poitiers, Jean de Melun.
Guillaume de Mauléon and his wife gave the monks the following rights provided that a lamp was permanently lit in the abbey church, as well as two candles during each Mass:
- The right of mining on the domain of La Roche-sur-Yon;
- Land and part of the Fontenelle Forest
- All royalties and markets of La Roche-sur-Yon
During the Hundred Years War, the English ruined part of the nave of the Abbey, shortly after its re-consecration and in 1533 only nine monks resided there. Soon after, in 1562, the Protestants set the Abbey on fire, leaving the church amputated with a short nave of only two bays. Following this, it was reformed in the 17th century, but at the time of the Revolution only three canons were left, and in 1791 it was sold as private property. Afterwards, the church was used as a barn while the lodgings of the abbot were used as housing for poor peasants working the land.
The abbey was built in the forest of La Roche-sur-Yon, c. 5 km south of the domain, Domaine les Fontenelles. It was dedicated to the Virgin and took the name of Notre-Dame des Fontenelles because of the presence of a small source of ferruginous water.
The abbey church is interesting because it represents the intermediate phase between Romanesque and Gothic. With its mutilated nave with a single span, the vaults of the transepts and the apse are cupola-shaped.
According to tradition, the founders of the Abbey were all buried in the church: Guillaume de Mauléon and his wife Beatrice de Machecoul, as well as her daughter, Jeanne de Thouars, from Beatrice’s second marriage with Aimery VIII of Thouars, The tomb of Beatrice de Machecoul (or her daughter, Jeanne de Thouars) is sculpted in limestone and may still be seen in the ruined transept.
Since 2002, the Abbey has been closed to the public because of its dangerous and ruinous state. Further, it is privately owned and even though the region has promised to help the owner is planning to search for crowd-funding.
La Roche. Quel avenir pour l’abbaye des Fontenelles ?
In Ouest-France 21.03.2017
The Abbey of Fontanelle at La Roche-sur-Yon. Source: By kind permission of Francis Leroy www.imag-in-air.com