Cistercian Abbey Of Fontenay

Posted by jimmy on October 20th, 2022

St. Bernard established this austere Burgundian monastery in 1119. It is a superb example of the concept of self-sufficiency as practiced by the earliest communities of Cistercian monks, with its chapel, cloister, refectory, sleeping rooms, bakery, and ironworks. 

Outstanding Universal Value Brief synthesis 

The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay was established in 1119 by St. Bernard in a marshy valley of Bourgogne, in the Bourgogne Franche-Comté area of the Côte-d'Or Department, in the commune of Marmagne. It exemplifies the goal of self-sufficiency as practiced by the earliest communities of Cistercian monks with its austere architecture, church, cloister, refectory, sleeping rooms, bakery, and ironworks.

Pope Eugene III, a Cistercian and former student of St. Bernard, dedicated the Abbey of Fontenay, which was constructed between 1139 and 1147 by Abbot Guillaume with the help of Ebraud, Bishop of Norwich. With its blind nave and transept, basilic design in the shape of a Latin cross, and other distinctive features, this kind of Romanesque Cistercian church exhibits extreme simplicity and austere modesty without a tower. The value of this architecture is found in the accuracy of the proportions, the strictness of the wall openings, and the science of the vaultings, as well as the beauty of the wall masonry, which pairs flawless courses of ashlar with unpolished, rough-cut rubble. 

Criterion (iv): 

The austere architecture of the Cistercian monks represents the physical form of the moral and aesthetic ideals which flourished at various times in the history of western Christian religious communities. Thus, the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay, an agricultural and industrial center, workplace, and place of worship for small groups living in self-sufficiency, illustrates a significant historical movement of universal value. 


The Abatia Cisterciana of Fontenay and its surroundings serve as a model for Cistercian institutions. The Cistercian abbeys form a family apart in western monastic architecture. They were built in a remote location but close to a water source and agricultural land, forbidding all decoration but employing scholarly architecture on a monumental scale, presenting stark spaces adapted to the rigorous life according to monastic rule, as well as specialized functional areas of great technical sophistication. One of the best examples overall and almost definitely the best preserved, Fontenay has maintained its unity and intact site. 


The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay has experienced modernizations, new buildings (particularly the Abbot's Palace in the 17th century), as well as demolitions throughout its history (the refectory in the 18th century). After the Revolution and the sale of the national properties, it was converted into an industrial institution, and restoration work started in 1906. 

The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay was restored after 1906 and is still standing today as a generally authentic and well-preserved ensemble despite changes made in the 13th, 15th, and 16th centuries as well as the ruins that were collected in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Protection and management requirements 

The Abbey of Fontenay is a private property that is accessible to the public and has been recognised as a historic monument since 1862. A sizable site that was listed in 1989 surrounds it. As a result, both the Heritage Code and the Environment Code guarantee its conservation. 

Its owner is in charge of its management and conservation, which is under the scientific and technical supervision of the State, which, along with territorial collectivities, takes part, as necessary, in funding conservation efforts.

The document for the administration of the Fontenay forests (State forest) and Marmagne forests (Communal forest), which contains landscape studies, governs the management of the majority of the buffer zone. A broader region could be considered by expanding the buffer zone.

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