Fleury Abbey (Floriacum) in Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Loiret, France, founded about 640, was one of the richest and most celebrated Benedictine monasteries of Western Europe. Its modern name is Fleury-Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, based on the claim that the relics of Benedict of Nursia were to be found there. Its site on the banks of the Loire has always made it easily accessible from Orléans, a center of culture unbroken since Roman times.
The seventeenth-century Benedictine scholar Jean Mabillon accepted the traditional founding of Fleury as by Leodebaldus, abbot of St-Aignan (Orléans) about 640, in the existing Gallo-Roman villa of Floriacum, in the Vallis Aurea, the "Golden Valley". This was the spot selected by the Abbot of St-Aignan for his Benedictine foundation. Rigomarus was its first abbot.
The most famous of the Merovingian abbots was St. Mommolus, who effected the translation of the relics there of Benedict of Nursia. The monastery underwent a season of reform in its monastic life, about 930, along the lines first laid out at Cluny. The monastery enjoyed the patronage of the Carolingians for generations, it was also central to the political ambitions of the Robertian house descended from Robert I of France, several of whom had held the title Duke of the Franks. The monk of Fleury named Helgaud (died ca 1068), was chaplain to King Robert II and wrote a brief Epitoma vitae Roberti regis. Fleury had particular significance in lending legitimacy to its patrons. Although royal and ducal patronage had material advantages, there was also a price to be paid in terms of monastic autonomy when the ducal candidate conflicted with the choice of the monastic community.
Theodulphus, bishop of Orléans established at Fleury a school for young noblemen recommended there by Charlemagne. By the mid-ninth century its library was one of the most comprehensive ever assembled in the West, and scholars such as Lupus of Ferrières (d. 862) traveled there to consult its texts. Later under St. Abbo of Fleury (abbot 988-1004), head of the reformed abbey school, Fleury enjoyed a second golden age; it kept up close relations with abbeys in England. Later, among the abbots in commendam are Odet de Coligny, Cardinal de Chatillon, Antoine Cardinal Sanguin in the reign of François I and Armand du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu).
The abbey church
The Catholic Encyclopedia avers that "from the very start the abbey boasted of two churches, one in honour of St. Peter and the other in honour of the Blessed Virgin." The church of St Peter was demolished in the eighteenth century; the existing church dedicated to the Virgin pre-existed the founding of the monastery. After the ravages of the Normans, who penetrated via the Loire and burned the monastery buildings, which suffered a catastrophic fire in 1026, this became the great late eleventh-century Romanesque basilica, which occasioned the erection of a great tower, that was intended as the west front of the abbey church, which was completed in 1218. It was here that the Fleury Playbook was compiled, perhaps in dedication to the new church. The tower of Abbot Gauzlin, resting on fifty columns, forms a unique porch. The church is about three hundred feet long, its transept one hundred and forty feet. The choir of the church contains the tomb of a French monarch, Philip I of France, buried there in 1108. Of the abbey's buildings, only the basilica survives.
Of the list of eighty-nine abbots of Fleury, the last twenty-two held the abbey in commendam and did not reside there. By the seventeenth century, its library had become a quarry for collectors of manuscripts. The last abbot, at the time of the French Revolution, was Georges-Louis Phélypeaux, Archbishop of Bourges.
The relics of Benedict of Nursia
Fleury is reputed to contain the relics of St. Benedict of Nursia, the father of Western monasticism, a claim disputed by the monks of Monte Cassino. Mommolus, the second Abbot of Fleury, is said to have effected their transfer when that abbey fell into decay after the ravages of the Lombards in the seventh century. Benedict's relics, and the Mirucula S. Benedicti developed by five monks of Fleury ovber three centuries, attracted pilgrims, bringing wealth and fame. The monks of Monte Cassino impugned the claims of Fleury, but without ever showing any relics to make good their contention that they possess the body of the founder.
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- ↑ The abbey is about 35 km southeast of Orléans.
- ↑ The chronicler Aldrevald of Fleury first reported the transfer, in the ninth century.
- ↑ His biography, Vie de Gauzlin, abbé de Fleury: Vita Gauzlini abbatis Floriacensis monasterii edited by André de Fleury, R. H. Bautier and G. Labory, was published in 1969 (Paris: C.N.R.S.).
- ↑ Alexandre Vidier , L'Historiographie à Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire et les miracles de Saint Benoît (Paris: Picard) 1965.
- Catholic Encyclopedia: "Abbey of Fleury"
- Elizabeth Dachowski, "Edmund of East Anglia: Life of Abbo of Fleury": an introduction to the political background.
- (Dewey Library, University of Pennsylvania) Boethius, In Librum Aristotelis de Interpretatione: Manuscript probably produced at Fleury, mid-ninth century
- Anselme Davril, editor, 1990. The Monastic Ritual of Fleury. A twelfth-century ritual, Orleans, Bibliotheque Municipale MS 123  ISBN 978-0-9501009-9-9
- Chenesseau, Georges. L'abbaye de Fleury à Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (Paris: van Oest) 1933.