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Clairvaux Abbey (Clara Vallis in Latin), a Cistercian monastery, was founded in 1115 by St. Bernard. It is located in Ville-sous-la-Ferté, 15 km from Bar-sur-Aube, in the Aube département in northeastern France. Although the original building is now in ruins—and a high-security prison now occupies the grounds (see Clairvaux Prison)--Clairvaux Abbey was a good example of the general layout of a Cistercian monastery. The Abbey has been listed since 1926 as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
Cistercian monasteries were all arranged according to a set plan unless the circumstances of the locality forbade it. A strong wall, furnished at intervals with watchtowers and other defenses, surrounded the abbey precincts. Beyond the wall, a moat, artificially diverted from tributaries which flow through the precincts, completely or partially encircled the wall. This water furnished the monastery with an abundant supply of water for irrigation, sanitation and for the use of the offices and workshops.
An additional wall, running from north to south, bisected the monastery into an "inner" and "outer" ward. The inner ward housed the monastic buildings while the agricultural and other menial endeavors were carried out in the outer ward.
The precincts were entered by a gateway (P), at the extreme western extremity, giving admission to the lower ward. Here the barns, granaries, stables, shambles, workshops and workmens lodgings were located without any regard to symmetry, convenience being the only consideration. A single gatehouse (D) afforded communication through the wall separating the outer from the inner ward. On passing through the gateway, the outer court of the inner ward was entered, with the western facade of the monastic church in front. Immediately on the right of entrance was the abbot's house (G), in close proximity to the guest-house (F). On the other side of the court were the stables, for the accommodation of the horses of the guests and their attendants (H). The church occupied a central position. To the south was the great cloister (A), surrounded by the chief monastic buildings. Further to the east, the smaller cloister contained the infirmary, novices' lodgings and quarters for the aged monks. Beyond the smaller cloister and separated from the monastic buildings by a wall, lay the vegetable gardens and orchards. Large fish ponds were also located in the area east of the monastic buildings. They were an important part of monastic life and much care was given to their construction and maintenance by the monks. The fish ponds often remain as one of the few visible traces of these vast monasteries.
Plan No. 2 illustrates the ichnography of the distinct and usually unvaried arrangement of the Cistercian houses. The church (A) is the chief feature. It consists of a vast nave of eleven bays, entered by a narthex, with a transept and short apsidal choir. (The eastern limb in all unaltered Cistercian churches is remarkably short, and usually square.) To the east of each limb of the transept are two square chapels, divided according to Cistercian rule by solid walls. Nine radiating chapels, similarly divided, surround the apse. The stalls of the monks, forming the ritual choir, occupy the four eastern bays of the nave. There was a second range of stalls in the extreme western bays of the nave for the fratres conversi, or lay brothers. The cloister (B) was located to the south of the church so that its inhabitants could benefit from ample sunshine. Around the cloister, the buildings connected with the monks' daily life were arranged. The chapter house(C) always opened out of the east walk of the cloister in parallel with the south transept.
A. Church. B. Cloister. C. Chapter-house. D. Monks' parlour. E. Calefactory. F. Kitchen and court. G. Refectory. H. Cemetery. I. Little cloister. K. Infirmary. L. Lodgings of novices. M. Old guest-house. N. Old abbot's lodgings. O. Cloister of supernumerary monks. P. Abbot's hall. Q. Cell of St Bernard. R. Stables. S. Cellars and storehouses. T. Water-course. U. Saw-mill and oil mill. V. Currier's shop. X. Sacristy. Y. Little library. Z. Undercroft of dormitory.
In Cistercian houses this was quadrangular, and was divided by pillars and arches into two or three aisles. Between it and the transept we find the sacristy (X) and a small book-room (Y) armariolum, where the brothers deposited the volumes borrowed from the library. On the south side of the chapter-house is a passage (D) communicating with the courts and buildings beyond. This was sometimes known as the parlour, colloquii locus, the monks having the privilege of conversation there. When the originally austere discipline became relaxed, traders were allowed to display their goods in the colloquii locus. Beyond this is the calefactorium or day-room—an apartment warmed by flues beneath the pavement, where the brethren, half frozen during the night offices, betook themselves after the conclusion of lauds, to gain a little warmth, grease their sandals and get themselves ready for the work of the day. In the plan before us this apartment (E) opens from the south cloister walk, adjoining the refectory. The place usually assigned to it is occupied by the vaulted substructure of the dormitory (Z). The dormitory, as a rule, was placed on the east side of the cloister, running over the calethetory and chapter-house, and joined the south transept, where a flight of steps admitted the brethren into the church for nocturnal services. Opening out of the dormitory was always the necessarium, planned with the greatest regard to health and cleanliness, a water-course invariably running from end to end. The refectory opens out of the south cloister at G. The position of the refectory is usually a marked point of difference between Benedictine and Cistercian abbeys. In the former, as at Canterbury, the refectory ran east and west parallel to the nave of the church, on the side of the cloister farthest removed from it. In the Cistercian monasturies, to keep the noise and smell of dinner still farther away from the sacred building, the refectory was built north and south, at right angles to the axis of the church. It was often divided, sometimes into two, sometimes, as here, into three aisles. Outside the refectory door, in the cloister, was the lavatory, where the monks washed their hands at dinner-time. The buildings belonging to the material life of the monks lay near the refectory, as far as possible from the church, to the S.W. With a distinct entrance from the outer court was the kitchen court (F), with its buttery, scullery and larder, and the important adjunct of a stream of running water. Farther to the west, projecting beyond the line of the west front of the church, were vast vaulted apartments (SS), serving as cellars and storehouses, above which was the dormitory of the conversi. Detached from these, and separated entirely from the monastic buildings, were various workshops, which convenience repuired to be banished to the outer precincts, a saw-mill and oil-mill (UU) turned by water, and a currier's shop (V), where the sandals and leathern girdles of the monks were made and repaired.
Returning to the cloister, a vaulted passage admitted to the small cloister (l), opening from the north side of which were eight small cells, assigned to the scribes employed in copying works for the library, which was placed in the upper story, accessible by a turret staircase. To the south of the small cloister a long hall will be noticed. This was a lecture-hall, or rather a hall for the religious disputations customary among the Cistercians. From this cloister opened the infirmary (K), with its hall, chapel, cells, blood-letting house and other dependencies. At the eastern verge of the vast group of buildings we find the novices' lodgings (L), with a third cloister near the novices' quarters and the original guest-house (M). Detached from the great mass of the monastic edifices was the original abbot's house (N), with its dining-hall (P). Closely adjoining to this, so that the eye of the father of the whole establishment should be constantly over those who stood the most in need of his watchful care,--those who were training for the monastic life, and those who had worn themselves out in its duties,--was a fourth cloister (O), with annexed buildings, devoted to the aged and infirm members of the establishment. The cemetery, the last resting-place of the brethren, lay to the north side of the nave of the church (H).
It will be seen from the above account that the arrangement of a Cistercian monastery was in accordance with a clearly defined system, and admirably adapted to its purpose. The base court nearest to the outer wall contained the buildings belonging to the functions of the body as agriculturists and employers of labour. Advancing into the inner court, the buildings`devoted to hospitality are found close to the entrance; while those connected with the supply of the material wants of the brethren, --the kitchen, cellars, &c.,--form a court of themselves outside the cloister and quite detached from the church. The church refectory, dormitory and other buildings belonging to the professional life of the brethren surround the great cloister. The small cloister beyond, with its scribes' cells, library, hall for disputations, &c., is the centre of the literary life of the community. The requirements of sickness and old age are carefully provided for in the infirmary cloister and that for the aged and infirm members of the establishment. The same group contains the quarters of the novices.
This stereotyped arrangement is further shown by the illustration of the mother establishment of Citeaux.
- http://www.claravallis.org/ (in French and English) Official Site of the Claravallis Association for a Clairvaux Foundation
- http://abbaye-clairvaux.barsuraube.net/ (in French)
- http://vieuxtroyes.free.fr/t/abclairvx.htm (in French)
- Ministry of Culture listing (fr)
- Ministry of Culture photos