Sorry that I’ve been away from my blog for so long. I’m occupied with so many other things and just don’t have the time or the energy to post more often. I would however like to share some photos of the vacation that I took just after finishing the Camino de Santiago in May. After spending a few days with friends in the Lot, I drove to the Loire region where I had the chance to visit many lovely churches, castles and châteaux. My first stop was to the Abbaye de Fontevraud between Saumur and Chinon. Despite the fact that it has been ravaged through history, it remains the largest group of monastic buildings in France. The monastic order at Fontevraud was founded by Robert d’Arbrissel who had been a hermit in the Mayenne Forest before being appointed by Pope Urban II to preach in the west of France in 1101. The order soon became quite aristocratic and the Plantagenets showered it with wealth. From the beginning the abbey was unique among religious houses in that it had five separate buildings accommodating priests and lay brothers (St-Jean-de-l’Habit), contemplative nuns (Ste-Marie), lepers (St-Lazare), invalids (St-Benoit) and lay sisters (Ste-Marie-Madeleine). Each body led its own life, with its own church and cloister, chapter house, refectory, kitchen and dormitory. Robert d’Arbrissel had ordained that the whole community be directed by an abbess chosen from among widows; she was later designated as Head and General of the Order and this female supremacy was to be maintained right up to the French Revolution. The abbey became a refuge for repudiated queens and daughters of royalty or highly placed families who, voluntarily or under compulsion, retired from the secular world. There were 36 abbesses, half of whom were of royal blood including five from the House of Bourbon, between 1115 and 1789. The Huguenots desecrated the abbey in 1561; in 1792 the order was suppressed by the Revolutionaries who completely destroyed the monk’s priory. In 1804 Napoleon converted the remaining buildings into a prison which remained open until 1963. In 1975 the abbey embarked on a new vocation as a venue for cultural events. The now-restored 12th century abbey church was divided into storeys at the time when it served as a prison so much of its original interiors are missing or damaged. The vast nave is roofed by a series of domes, a characteristic of churches in the south-west of France. This style can be explained by the important links the Plantagenets had with Anjou and Aquitaine. The abbey church houses the 13 polychrome recumbent figures of the Plantagenets, representing Henry II, Count of Anjou and King of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, who died at Fontevraud in 1204, their son Richard the Lionheart and lastly Isabella of Angouleme, second wife of their son, King John of England. The Ste-Marie cloister of the nun’s convent is quite large and decorated with nicely trimmed boxwood shrubs laid out in geometric patterns. A wooden walkway, much like a roller-coaster now takes up much of the center space and serves as a functional piece of art allowing visitors to walk high above the columned walls in order to meditate. It also serves as a platform for taking some pretty interesting photos of the surrounding arches. Here the vaulting is of the Renaissance style except on the south side which is Gothic inspired. A richly carved doorway in the east gallery, paved with the Bourbon coat of arms opens into the chapter house which is lavishly decorated with 16th century murals representing the life and passion of Christ with former abbesses meditating upon the action. The refectory is a very large hall with Romanesque walls and roofed with Gothic vaulting which replaced a timber ceiling in 1515. The kitchen is perhaps the most unusual building on the site. It is the only Romanesque kitchen in France to have survived the centuries. This most intriguing building is roofed with overlapping lozenge-shaped stones and topped by a number of chimneys, added in 1904 during restoration by the architect Magne. Originally, the building was free-standing, built on an octagonal plan and capped by an octagonal hood.