Cistercian Abbaye de Valloires

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Church and 16th century dovecote

The Abbaye de Valloires is nestled in the Val d’Authie in the small commune of Argoules in the Somme department.

Count Guy II of Ponthieu and the monks of Cîteaux  founded the (Cistercian) Order’s 11th abbey, the Abbaye de Valloires Valloires, in 1137.

The abbey was seriously damaged during the Hundred Years War, especially during the Battle of Crécy, which was fought nearby.

It underwent further havoc and looting during the Wars of Religion and was quite run down by the end of 17th century.

It was thus entirely rebuilt in the 18th century.

However, the original 13th century abbey church (the only original building that had survived) collapsed in 1738!

The new church was consecrated in 1756.

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Main courtyard

Not only was the abbey spared during the French Revolution, but it has been continuously occupied since.

The Abbaye de Valloires is therefore the only Cistercian Abbey in France that has retained an unspoiled original architecture.

It is also renowned for its Classical architecture and stunning Rococo interior decoration.

The Abbaye de Valloires was declared national property during the Revolution.

Fortunately, Ambroise-Leopold Jourdain de l’Eloge purchased it in 1776 after having redeemed the lordship of Argoules.

He therefore saved the abbey from demolition!

He died in 1808 and his heirs sold Valloires to the Société des Basiliens, a secular brotherhood of Christians craftsmen specialized in organ building.

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Abbey and gardens

The Basiliens remained in Valloires until 1860.

The monks of the Order of Saint-Vincent de Paul took over the abbey in 1887 and founded an orphanage.

They remained there until 1906, when the newly voted (1905) Law of Separation of Church and State forced them to leave.

However, Valloires remained unoccupied until 1915 when it was transformed into a Belgian military hospital.

Abbey church

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Rococo decoration

Fortunately the Abbaye de Valloires was classified as a Historical Monument in 1907, as it boasts a wealth of exceptional architectural and decorative features.

Those include, among others, the vaulted stone brick cloister, the 16th century dovecote in the main courtyard and a superb half-timbered barn nestled at the rear of the building.

But the key features is the interior decoration of the church, a masterpiece of French Rocaille or Rococo style, the extravagant style of the 18th century.

The Austrian sculptor Simon Pfaff Paffenhofen and the wrought iron craftsman Jean-Baptiste Veyren aka Le Vivarais were commissioned for the decoration.

This church of modest dimensions stuns by the contrast of its external sober Classical architecture and its lavish interior.

It boasts a wealth of Rococo furniture, paintings and sculptures and an organ with a fully carved buffet.

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Iron grid by Le Vivarais

Le Vivarais created the double iron grid, considered a masterpiece of ironwork, which separates the chancel from the nave.

Both the organ and the iron grid are classified Historical Monuments.

The church contains the effigies of Countess Marie of Ponthieu and her husband Simon of Dammartin who lived in the 13th century.

The funeral vigil of John the Blind, King of Bohemia, who died during the Battle of Crécy in 1346, took place in the abbey church.

Association Valloires

In 1922 Thérèse Papillon, a senior nurse who volunteered during WWI, bought the abbey and founded the Association of Valloires, which was recognized of public utility on June 10, 1925.

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Therese’s tombstone in the church

She converted the abbey in a preventorium, an institution which functioned until 1974.

The activities of the Association evolved over the years.

In 1964 Thérèse founded a shelter for young people and adults in the old barns.

This shelter became a temporary home for the elderly in 1991.

The association has since founded a shelter for troubled youth and a hostelry for visitors.

The association still owns the Abbaye de Valloires and opens most buildings to the public.

Gardens of the Abbaye de Valloires

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Gardens

The abbey is nestled in the heart of a beautiful 21-hectare wooded park.

The landscape gardener Gilles Clement designed these spectacular gardens, which were opened to the public in 1989.

You will find many tree and bush species and splendid flowerbeds.

However, one of the key feature of these gardens is a pear tree planted in 1756, the same year the abbey church was consecrated.

Indeed, this is one of the oldest pear in France!

Terrines de Poires de l’Abbaye de Valloires

Finally, in the Middle Ages Valloires specialized in the production of local products, as all abbeys did.

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Entrance to the abbey

However, there are no vineyards in Valloires as the climate is not adequate for vine growing, but pear orchards.

The sweet and tender flesh of the pear flesh is associated with Mary; it is a sign of virtue, goodness and sweetness.

The Abbaye de Valloire is thus dedicated to the Virgin.

The Terrines de Poires  contributed so much to the prosperity of the Abbaye de Valloires, that the abbots added a pear next to the arms of the House of Ponthieu on their coat-of-arms.

The Association revived this tradition in the recent years; a perfect treat after the visit of the abbey!

Directions: Department of Somme – Picardie Region

Coordinates Abbaye de Valloires: Lat 50.348083 – Long 1.819290

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Iron grid and Gardens by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT are licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0Therese’s tombstone by Mikola77 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0Abbey and gardens by Jimidelyon is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0