(canton of Mortain, Manche)
"Abbaye-Blanche" (White Abbey was founded in 1112 by Adeline, sister of saint Vital for the members of
the order of Savigny. Vital, a former chaplain to count Robert of Mortain,
half-brother of William the Conqueror, in 1095 retired from his role and retired
to the "desert" in the forests of Passais and Fougères. He lived
there for eighteen years, before founding the Ordre de Savigny. He was, along
with Robert d'Arbrissel and Bernard de Tiron, one of the " magistri et
principes eremitarum " who in c. 1100 sought to reform the Church. They
established new and original Benedictine congregations, in the wake of the
Cistercians, to which Savigny attached itself in 1147.
The architecture of the church faithfully follows the Cistercian ground plans: a
Latin cross, single nave and wide transept sheltering two square chapels, and a
choir with a flat east end. The style was that of early gothic: fully arched bays,
double broken arches with double archivolt, thick ribs descending onto truncated
columns and bases, bulging vaults in the Angevin mode of the Plantagenets. The
decorative style was sacrificed to Cistercian austerity: simplicity of the
openings, capitals with bare basket or flat leaf patterns.
Of the 12th century convent the chapter house, cellar and Romanesque
The chapter house, which is rectangular, opening onto the cloisters through
large fully vaulted bays, is divided into two naves whose ribbed vaults descend
onto a line of pillars. It dates from the 1170s. Its original plan, which can
also be seen at La Lucerne, belongs to the Norman gothic school (Hambye,
Notre-Dame-du-Vœu, Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives, Le Plessis-Grimoult...) and its
English equivalent (Kirkstall).
The cloister which has two further galleries (but only eleven of the arches are
truly of the end of the 12th century) is made up of narrow fully
vaulted arches descending onto small columns which give it a strong sensation of
- Blouet, Louis. " Mortain
", in Art de Basse-Normandie, N° 12, 1958
- Beck, Bernard. " Recherches sur les salles capitulaires en Normandie
", in Bulletin de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie, t.
LVIII, années 1965-66, Caen, 1969