The Anglo-Norman Church

Monks and monasteries

St Anselm, abbot of Le Bec, wearing the pallium of the Archbishop of Canterbury, illuminated initial from the "Monologion", by Hugo Pictor, Jumièges scriptorium, late 11th c. Most of the pre-Norman monasteries were destroyed during the 9th century and all the monks fled. The only monasteries still remaining in the 10th century were probably those of St Ouen in Rouen and Mont St Michel. Monastic life was re-established in the middle of the century in the abbeys of the Seine valley (Jumièges and St Wandrille), thanks to the reforming monks who arrived from outside the area (Northern Europe or Aquitaine). Acting with the agreement of the dukes these new monks were Benedictines. They also took possession of the abbey of Mont St Michel, expelling the old canons. In 1001, at the very beginning of the 11th century, the great reforming abbot, Blacksmith monk, illuminated initial from St Gregory the Great's "Moralia in Job", manuscript of the Abbey of Saint-Pierre at Préaux, 11th-12h c. William of Volpiano, founded the abbey of Fécamp, located in close proximity to the ducal palace. This abbey was subsequently to become a breeding ground for abbots and bishops, and, in particular, it was to Fécamp that the Abbey of Bernay owed its origins and St Taurin in Évreux its restoration.

The impetus behind the re-establishment of the monasteries was to gather strength during the 11th century. The dukes led by example. Robert the Magnificent founded Cerisy (1032) and Montivilliers (1035). William and Matilda founded the two abbeys of Caen (for women -Abbaye aux Dames, 1059 and for men - Abbaye aux Hommes,1063). The great aristocrats were to follow this example, creating their own family abbeys. Préaux (1034 and 1050), St Pierre-sur-Dives (1046) and Lessay (1056) are further examples.

Sarcophagus reliquary from the Abbey of Saint-Evroult, late 12th, early 13th c.During the 12th century, new religious orders emerged. These were reformed Benedictines such as those attached to the local orders in Savigny and Tiron, or regular canons such as the Augustinians. A number of Norman houses joined the great orders which were spreading throughout the west at that time. Thus in 1147, the abbeys and priories of Savigny collectively joined the Cistercian order. Similarly, numerous houses of canons attached themselves to the Premonstratensian order. Among these new Premonstratensian abbeys, those of La Lucerne (1143), Ardenne (1160) and Mondaye (1216) are worthy of mention.

François Neveux
ouen - Office universitaire d'études normandes
Université de Caen


previous page  The Anglo-Norman Territories  next page