Arrouaise Abbey

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The Abbey of Arrouaise [ɑʁ.wɛz] was the centre of a form of the canonical life known as the Arrouaisian Order, which was popular among the founders of canonries during the decade of the 1130s. The community began to develop when Heldemar joined the hermit Ruggerius in 1090 and approved by the local bishop in 1097. The priory was raised to the status of an abbey in 1121, electing as its first abbot, Gervaise. He impressed people who had the wealth sufficient to found an abbey, who usually had the secular power likely to go with their landed wealth.


The abbey had originated as a hermitage. That had developed into a community which adopted the task of providing a service to travellers through the then, great Forest of Arrouaise in Artois. The Order of Arrouaise was differentiated from others by being basically that of St. Augustine with the more restrained approach of the Cistercians as a guide to its more austere regimen than that of other canons regular. In general, as time passed, the distinction between the Arrouaisians and other groups of canons regular was less likely to be made, so that in their later history, Arrouaisian houses were often referred to simply as being houses of canons regular.

The forest where the community was established was in the form of a belt extending westwards from the Forest of The Ardennes, to the north of the town of St. Quentin and towards the town of Bapaume. It is now largely felled. Traffic passed through the forest, in many cases along the remaining lines of Roman roads. The routes were important commercially and diplomatically for traffic between Paris and Flanders, also between England and Burgundy. It will have been mainly by this route that the English and Western Flemings went to Rome on pilgrimages and diplomatic journeys.[1]

The abbey elected its first abbot, Gervaise in 1121 and was suppressed in 1790, during the course of the French Revolution.


On the whole, scholars seem rather vague about where the abbey itself was. It is possible that 'arrouaise' is an adjective indicating a connection with Arras or, by extension, with Artois, but in the 20th century, at least, these adjectives were respectively 'arrageois' and 'artesian'. However, within the appropriate area and in the higher land between the sources of rivers such as the Somme, Sambre and Escaut, there is a hamlet called l’Arrouaise. It lies at the end of a turning off a back road, the D272 (département of Aisne), 11.5 km south-east of the place known to British military historians as Le Cateau. The out-of-the-way position of l'Arrouaise would have been appropriate to the hermitage origins but would not be convenient in developing the tradition of service to travellers.

There was a small abbey, founded in the 11th century, "in the middle of the Forest of Arrouaise", at Aubencheul-aux-Bois near the N44 and about halfway between Cambrai and St. Quentin. It lies between Mesnil-en-Arrouaise (10 km SE of Bapaume) and Montigny-en-Arrouaise (15 km ENE of St. Quentin). Auboncheul lies on the border between Picardy and Hainaut as represented by the départements of Aisne and Nord. This site, on the St Quentin to Cambrai road, is much better suited to serving travellers, being on both the Paris to Mechelen and the London to Dijon roads. That means the France to Flanders and England to Burgundy diplomatic routes, as well as that from England and western Flanders to Rome. Besides these, the commercial traffic between Italy and Flanders grew in importance during the medieval period. Both Cambrai and St. Quentin were part of it. Four kilometres to the south of Aubencheul, at Gouy which used to be called Gouy en Arrouaise, (Click on Pienne on this map) the Michelin 1:200 000 map shows an abbey ruin, at the source of the Escaut. The two are likely to be one and known as Mont Saint Martin. This does not fit with the foundation charters of Bourne and Missenden Abbeys in each of which the dedication of Arrouaise is given as being to St. Nicholas.[2] Although this abbey may not be Arrouaise, it looks like part of the same pattern, as the story of St.Martin goes with the service to wayfarers.

For a clear statement of the site of the abbey we must stay with the Cassini map of the Cambrai region. When compared with a modern map, for example the Michelin 1:200 000, the abbey site falls just to the east of the St Quentin to Arras road, N17 as it crosses the border between the départements of Pas-de-Calais and Somme. It lies to the south of the D19 road to Rocquigny and very close to the Autoroute A2.

There is an aerial photograph of the site as a soil mark in a gallery on the French Ministry of Culture site. It is not very clear but if the grey line across the foreground is the N17 and given the angle of elevation and bearing of the sun it is; the Abbey lay in a rectangular compound, hard by the road on its eastern side. The axis of the photograph's view is close to 70°, that is 20° north of eastwards.

Compare this with a satellite view of the vicinity. The village in the north-west is Le Transloy, on the N17 and in the north-east, Rocquigny. The relationship between the N17 and the field boundaries indicates that the site now lies immediately to the north of the autoroute, A2 which abuts the right-hand edge of the former abbey's close, passing just outside it and leaving the ministry's picture through the top edge. The top right extremity of the picture is now on the far side of the autoroute.

This comparison of views draws attention to the very significant foreshortening in the ministry’s obliquely-taken photograph. It is therefore reasonable to see the pale patch in the strip of the site to the left as the abbey church, with the cloister just beyond the small modern building and accommodation for travellers occupying half the total width of the site, down to the southern boundary. The clarity of the soil mark varies with the modern use of the land. The lodgings appear to have been outside the canons' quarters and along the sides of a long, north-to-south courtyard.

Archived web link[edit]

AUTHORNAME. TITLE. . 2010-03-15. URL: Accessed: 2010-03-15. (Archived by WebCite at

Arrouaisian houses[edit]

In England[edit]

In France[edit]

  • Arrouaise Abbey (St. Nicholas)
  • Autrey[5]
  • Beaulieu Abbey (Saint Graal)[6]

In Ireland[edit]

  • Bangor
  • Clonard
  • Dublin
  • Duleek
  • Durrow
  • Kells
  • Knock
  • Navan
  • Saul
  • Trim


External links[edit]

Learned paper index[edit]

British History Online[edit]


  1. ^ For example St Malachie
  2. ^ William Dugdale, Monasticon vi 370. [1] [2]
  3. ^ The only reference to this is in this Bedfordshire article. Archived January 22, 2005, at the Wayback Machine. This is not the Cistercian Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire.
  4. ^ Only until 1156. See Burton, Janet (1994). Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain: 1000–1300. Cambridge Medieval Textbooks. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37797-8.  page 52
  5. ^ Founded in 1149. La Cholotte site Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ 6km east of Marquise, between Calais and Boulogne. Hist Opale site Archived February 18, 2005, at the Wayback Machine. quotes Dom Gosse, Histoire d'Arrouaise (p. 353)
  7. ^ See Abbeys and priories of Scotland, Robert of Scone, Davidian Revolution and Cambuskenneth Abbey
  8. ^ a b c Does not mention an Arrouaisian connection but makes a link with Notley.

Coordinates: 50°02′47″N 2°54′36″E / 50.0464°N 2.9101°E / 50.0464; 2.9101