I Photographed an Abandoned French Abbey
France is perhaps one of the first countries people think of when someone mentions Europe. It’s a daydream destination due to its culture, arts, food, and uniquely influential aesthetics, which in many ways, have shaped history for centuries. Today, the country holds many hidden and sometimes forgotten remnants of various eras of its past, including the amazing French Beaulieu abbey, which sits abandoned and unattended in the southern Hortes region (Haute Amance).
The Beaulieu Abbey dates back to 1166, and it was initially founded by Gauthier of Burgundy, one of the foremost members of the Cistercian Order, which still survives to this day, making it an almost millenarian religious organization. The Cistercians are monks and nuns that initially branched off from the Benedictines, who were looking for a more conservative approach to monastic life, as opposed to the more liberal and at times leisure-filled life of the latter monks, who sheltered themselves in their abbeys throughout Europe, at times enjoying privileges and luxurious that were unattainable for most people The Cistercians considered such lifestyle immoral for monks and nuns, so they decided to focus on promoting austerity. They would do a lot of farming, food production, and manual labor, and they were considered big cultural and technological innovators in medieval Europe. The Beaulieu abbey bears the mark of their monastic Order. For hundreds of years, it continued to thrive and grow, even surviving tragic events like the Black Death.
Eventually, Europe became a theater of several bloody conflicts throughout the 1500s, so much so that the Beaulieu abbey was completely destroyed in 1568. The building was restored, but it was ultimately ransacked again in 1711 when Germanic soldiers burned significant sections of the monastery to the ground. It is often said that the locals and neighbors were so outraged that they banded together to stop the massacre of the Beaulieu abbey’s inhabitants and its near-total destruction. Thankfully, they did succeed, and the abbey was rebuilt in 1731, sporting some features that are still here to this day. Thereafter, the story of the abbey is a little uncertain, but the area went through several “incarnations.”
At first, it was purchased by a relative of Diderot during the French Revolution area, and it was supposedly used as a private retreat. However, the Beaulieu abbey’s surroundings became a municipality by the same name in the 19th century. The town of Beaulieu was short-lived and was later split into two new municipalities: Rougeux and Haute-Amance. Architecturally, what’s left of the abbey bears the mark of the neo-gothic style that was adopted during the 1700s renovations, but it was previously known for its Romanesque style. Some beautiful stained glass windows dating back to the 19th are still there, although not intact and often found in fragments since some of the glass has been looted throughout the years. In fact, the remnants of the abbey experienced further abuse at the hands of Nazi troops, who had invaded France during WWII. The premises remained abandoned for several decades, up until a local family purchased the abbey in the 80s.
Not much has been done since the new owners took over, and the abbey was largely left to decay, exposed to weathering and occasional acts of vandalism and theft. Recently, a new buzz of interest has been surrounding the Beaulieu abbey, and the owners have made plans to restore the property.
The process should begin in 2022, and the aim is to turn the building into an artistic space, as well as a hub for the production of medicinal plants and other goods.
More photos of the abandoned French Beaulieu abbey can be found below:
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