the year 1199, Guillaume, of the monastic order of Chalais,
made his way to an isolated valley between the Riou Merlet
and the Brague rivers where he founded the Abbey of Sainte
Marie de Valbonne, to which a new township was added 320
years later: the village of Valbonne.
OF THE ABBEY OF VALBONNE
Abbey of Valbonne is a good example of Chalaisian Romanesque
construction, very close to the simplified Cistercian
primitive style with a flat chancel, a sole nave, and a
single chapel in each arm of the transept. The austerity
of the Order was demonstrated by the communal life of the
monks and the lay brothers. The latter entered the church
for services by a door leading directly from the cloister
to the front of the nave of the church, they took their
meals with the monks and a shared exterior staircase reached
their respective dormitories. Of modest dimensions because
of the relatively small size of the community - from 15
to 30 members at the most - the abbey church is remarkable
for the quality of the materials used and the careful workmanship
of its construction. Fine-grained stone quarried from a
nearby site was cut and precisely shaped with hammer and
chisel so that it could be mounted almost without the use
of mortar. The monastery buildings, which are joined to
the south transept of the church, were of a ruder construction
in roughly hewn blocks of stone and lime mortar. Narrow
windows of carved stone traverse the facade of their upper
on the bank of the River Brague, in an isolated and wooded
valley, the abbey fitted nicely with the Chalaisian
rules of solitude and silence while being well placed for
the monks' activities of sheep farming and forestry. The
monastery buildings have been well preserved. Restoration
work started in 1970 is continuing. The rebuilding of the
ruined vaulting of the monks' dormitory has been completed.
buildings are located around a rectangular courtyard,
once cloistered, measuring 18 metres 30 wide and 21 metres
50 long. The south transept of the church communicates on
the ground floor with a sacristy, beyond which is the abbey's
chapter house. From the monks' passage leading to the gardens,
there is access to a workroom.
monks' dormitory occupies the whole length of the upper
floor. The abbot's room, which is next to the transept,
had a door opening to a wooden staircase leading directly
into the church, convenient for nighttime worship and early
morning service. The dormitory accommodation is in the spirit
of the Cistercian practice, as opposed to the Cartesians
who used individual cells.
wing of the monastery opposite the nave of the church had,
on the ground floor, the common room, kitchen and dining
hall, and the lay brothers' dormitory on the upper floor.
the upper floor at the south-east corner of the cloister,
two doors, one to the monks' dormitory and the other to
the laymen's, opened onto an external staircase,
probably built of wood, a construction material which was
common to the Chalaisian abbeys of the mountains. The third
side of the cloister was occupied by a gallery, or, more
probably, by a simple wall.
outside wall of the church's nave forms the fourth side
of the courtyard. Between the lay brothers' door and the
corner of the transept, where the monks' entrance is situated,
there is to be admired a beautifully formed alcove
with a vaulted arch and a double rectangular entrance under
a straight lintel and two recessed tympana. Opening on to
the formerly cloistered area, it was probably used for the
storage of books.
vestiges of the cloisters remain, though corbels projecting
from the walls testify to their existence in the past.
main entrance is through a Romanesque doorway of
original stonework with three arches surmounted by a recessed
tympanum supported on either side by three columns bearing
monolithic capitals decorated with primitive carved human
heads and shapes that could be goats' horns. Unfortunately,
in the wall above this doorway, twin windows were added
during the 20th century in place of the round Romanesque
oculus window that was there previously.
inside, there is an atmosphere of profound serenity
which is created by the handsome bonding of the finely jointed
stonework of the church, which takes the form of a Latin
cross facing the east, the flat chapter and the two side
chapels in the transepts, all on the same level as the nave,
and the arched barrel vaulting, resting on stone cordons,
separating the four bays of the roof..
Level with the fourth bay, the laymen's door opens into
the nave, the floor of which slopes gently towards the chapter
as a sign of humility. It is simple and austere. No sculpture
distracts the eye. Twelve crosses of consecration, cut in
relief along the walls, add to the spirituality of the abbey
chapter, with its two Romanesque windows surmounted
by an opening in the form of a Greek cross, measures 5 metres
60 by 6 metres 50. Viewed from the nave, it is striking.
The stone altar, the same one used by the Chalaisians, holds
a sacred relic, sealed into a cavity in its table. It was
found under the Baroque altar that was moved after the Vatican
II council. In the southern wall, there is the seat of the
officiating priest and the door of the dead, which provided
access to the abbey's cemetery. In the opposite wall is
set a cupboard for the consecrated elements of the Eucharist.
the back of the nave can be seen the holes through the vaulting
through which passed the ropes to ring the bell the little
Chalaisian belfry, which was demolished and replaced by
the present tower in 1854.
the northern arm of the transept can be admired a Baroque
altar with its baldachin canopy (classed as a Historic
Monument) and in the southern arm a magnificent altar dating
from 1643 which is backed by a painting of Notre Dame du
Rosaire (also classified) that hides the door leading to
the old sacristy. To the left of the altar, high in the
wall, can be seen the shape of the doorway that led to the
abbot's room and the monks' dormitory. By means of this
door, and a wooden staircase, they were able to reach the
church for services during the night. During the day, they
entered the church from the cloister through the monks'
doorway, now hidden on the inside by the confessional, but
visible from the outside.
the Romanesque windows on the south side of the nave were
enlarged during the 19th century. The windows on the north
side were walled up in the 17th century when a chapel
for the White Penitents was added to that side of the