Vauclair Abbey

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Coordinates: 49°27′09″N 3°44′46″E / 49.4525°N 3.74611°E / 49.4525; 3.74611

Ruins of Vauclair Abbey in 2005

Vauclair or Vauclerc Abbey was a Cistercian abbey founded in 1134 by saint Bernard of Clairvaux at the request of Barthélemy de Jur, bishop of Laon.


It is located in France and was built about fifteen kilometers to the south of Laon in an east-west stretch of the Ailette river valley at the foot of the northern side of the Chemin des Dames, on a site already occupied by a church, in what is now the Bouconville-Vauclair commune. The site was ceded to Bernard with all its rights and dependencies. On 23 May 1134 a group of monks from Clairvaux Abbey, headed by the Englishman, took possession of the new abbey, the fifteenth daughter house of that at Clairvaux. Its east-west orientation led Bernard to name it Vauclair (Vallis clara), reversing the name of the mother abbey (Clara vallis). Supported by gifts from rich families, the abbey quickly prospered and was given several estates and farms.

In 1142, on the initiative of Bernard and Hatton, bishop of Troyes, the abbaye Notre-Dame du Reclus north of Sézanne was made a subsidiary of the abbey at Vauclair. In 1167, at the request of Henry I of Champagne, count palatine of Champagne, Vauclair Abbey sent monks to found the abbaye Notre-Dame de la Charmoye not far from Épernay. The Hundred Years' War and the 16th century French Wars of Religion heavily damaged Vauclair abbey, though it managed to survive until the French Revolution in 1789, when it was finally demolished and sold as "national property". Its geographical location very near to the Chemin des Dames led to what was left of its buildings being almost totally destroyed in 1917 by direct artillery bombardment. Only ruins now remain.

Following excavations[1] in 1966 by a local association led by a young Belgian Jesuit, père René Courtois - who lived in the abbey from 1966 until his death in 2005 - the site was made a monument historique in 1970. The site now also includes an arboretum of apple and pear trees and a medicinal herb garden planned by Courtois and opened in 1976.


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