In 1091 Pierre de l'Étoile founded a Benedictine monastery on the banks of the Creuse River, near the spring or fount of Gombaud. In the 12th and 13th centuries the abbey experienced vigorous growth and established twenty or so priories. In the 15th century the abbots of Fontgombault had numerous ponds excavated, as was also done at the abbeys of Saint-Cyran and Méobecq, thus contributing to fish husbandry in the Brenne region. The abbey was sacked and laid waste by the Calvinists in 1569, and was not restored until the end of the 17th century, when Dom Andrieu accomplished the task. In 1741 however the Benedictine community, reduced to five members, was replaced by a community of Lazarists, who established a seminary here and used it as a center for missions in the region.
The buildings were partly destroyed during the French Revolution, when the monastery was nationalised and sold off. It was eventually bought back for religious uses by the Trappists in 1849, who succeeded in re-establishing it as a viable community by redeveloping its agriculture and setting up a kirsch distillery.
But in 1905 the Trappists were expelled from France under the Association Laws and the monastery was secularised and sold off for a second time. The purchaser was Louis Bonjean, who set up a button factory in the premises. At his death in 1914 the buildings were put to use as a military hospital for wounded soldiers of the Belgian army, which it remained until 1918.
From 1919 to 1948 the premises accommodated a diocesan seminary, which closed for want of vocations.
In 1948 the empty buildings were restored to the site's original purpose when 22 monks from Solesmes Abbey settled it afresh as a Benedictine community. It is now the most populous of Solesmes' foundations, comprising over a hundred monks, and has in its turn founded another three religious houses in France — Randol Abbey, (1971), Triors Abbey (1984) and Gaussan Priory (1994) — as well as Clear Creek Priory in the United States in 1999. The monks celebrate Mass using the 'vetus ordo' (Tridentine rite, or Missal of St Pius V).
As part of the Solesmes Congregation within the Benedictine Confederation, the abbey focusses on the use of Gregorian chant. The monastery has produced a number of CD's of plainchant, and of plainchant with organ interludes, which can be purchased at the small shop just beside the entrance to the church.
- Abbayes de Provence: Fontgombault Abbey (French)
- Diocese of Bourges: webpage on Fontgombault Abbey (French)
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