L’abbaye de la Piété Dieu de l’Épau was founded in 1229 by Queen Bérengère of Navarre, widow of Richard the Lionhearted and Dowager Countess of Maine (who also lived in the heart of old Le Mans—Cité Plantagenêt). It is one of the last Cistercian establishments in France. During the Revolution, the abbey was home to only 6 monks. It was then closed and the land assigned to agricultural use. In 1959, the abbey’s very survival was threatened until the local government intervened and purchased the site. For nearly 30 years restoration work was undertaken to return the building to its original splendor. The spirit of this restoration was to restore the monument to its configuration from the 12th and 14th century. Today, the Abbaye de l’Épau is one of the best preserved abbeys of France. It has preserved nearly all of its buildings. Only the cloister has disappeared. The building needed to enclose the cloister would have been somewhere in the west but it was never built. The cloister area was probably destroyed during the redesign of monastic buildings in the 18th century. The remaining double stone corbels which supported the structure of the wood shed, suggesting that it was not vaulted. The scriptorium is a rectangular room with six bays on cross-ribbed vaults whose ribs fall on the monolithic pillars with basket-shaped capitals. Upon entering, one can see the recessed opening allowing communication with the kitchen. It was through this opening that the copyists who worked here could warm their hands and warm their inks since the scriptorium scriptorium was not heated. The dortoir is a large room measuring 43 by 11 meters, whose wood-paneled ceiling has been restored to its original arched profile. It is illuminated by a series of 25 small windows. At the north end, on one side we see the door to the stairway to the church. At the south end is the Abbot’s room—a vaulted cell (not open to visitors), the walls of which one can see details of a fresco representing the Annunciation. This room was also a "safe" or where the monastery preserved its valuable assets and documents. The vaults which cross the chapterhouse find their base on four central square columns with octagonal capitals. The keystone is adorned with the representation of the Sacred Lamb. In this room rests the recumbent statue of Queen Bérengère of Navarre, founder of the abbey. The sacristy has intersecting ribs based on two central columns—monoliths with sandstone capitals and ten square balusters set into the walls. One can distinguish some murals of the 16th century along with keystones and vaults themselves being painted. As you can see, I wasn't able to get any of those photos. Oh well. On either side of the door leading to the church are images of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the foot washing and the Last Supper. On another wall is an image of a bishop submitting a document to a monk kneeling before him—this monk is probably the architect offering his plans of the abbey. The Abbey Church—at the door of the church is an alcove which served as an enclosure which held liturgical books. Above the entrance is another representation of the Sacred Lamb in. The Sacred Lamb, the emblem of the Abbey, is often found inside its buildings. One cannot fail to note the highly developed transept—the nave was not finished. This transept opens on both ends to six side chapels. It is in these chapels that monks celebrated their Holy Offices which included Mass every morning. In the north transept, isolated in a chapel is a magnificent altar of the 13th century decorated with its original polychrome adornment. In the south transept is a wooden staircase (modern) that allowed monks to descend directly from the dormitory to the church for the Office of Vigils in the middle of the night. Within the park surrounding the abbey, one can only wonder how to use the 17th century sundial created by a Benedictine monk in 1635. It was originally kept in the garden of the Château de la Groirie until it was restored and placed within the abbey precincts in 2004. There is a detailed history of this sundial including many more photographs explaining every facet of the sculpture at the Association Tempora website.