Recommended Listening: Great Spirit by Nahko & Medicine For The People
Abbaye de Fontfroide
I went to the Abbaye on a whim. After spending a few hours atop Château de Quéribus, I was tired and windswept, as can happen atop a castle upon a mountain, yet, I was only just getting started; I had a whole evening ahead of me. A quick search on Google Maps revealed to me an attraction called Abbaye de Fontfroide. I am not a religious type, but I do like pretty gardens, and the reviews of the Abbaye detailed beautifully manicured gardens. I was sold. I positioned myself back in the drivers seat of my little Renault companion who had been waiting patiently.
The drive to the Abbaye was not unlike the drive to the château, spotted with typically French villages. I stopped to photograph a few treasured sites along the way, a castle, a vineyard; nothing unusual for France. When I arrived at the Abbaye, I was full of anticipation. The sun was warm on my skin, but waning as it struck 5 oclock. The air was becoming cooler, but still delightful. A relaxing walk amongst some late spring blossoms was destined to be chicken soup for my soul. I entered the doorway to meet a lovely French girl behind the counter, ready and eager to speak English with me. Phew. This day just got a lot easier. Don’t get me wrong, I love testing my French skill from time to time, but when I’m mentally tired, my “skill” leaves a lot to be desired.
It was a short walk down a sandy path to reach what I could only guess was the main entrance to the Abbaye. There were large pebbled open courtyards with generous stone statues. Although this view in itself was new and exciting for me, it was deceiving. I was unsure if I had taken a wrong turn or perhaps this Abbaye was more grandeur in its description than in actuality. I searched for a doorway, hoping there was something more magnificent within the large walls and so I stepped inside… I felt a tingling sensation rise from the tips of my toes through each and every blood vessel. I was definitively overwhelmed, I acquiesced and a tear rolled down my face.
I immediately felt within every cracking bone in my body that this was a special place for all people who had worshipped their god within these walls. I felt connected, I felt a part of something huge. Usually, my beliefs revolve around us being small, tiny blips on the radar of space and time, yet today I felt that our humanity had created something beautiful, worth treasuring and worth protecting. I stood, observing and wondering how I would capture this moment for eternity. I was scrambling desperately for a way to share it with my love, my present and future family. How could I possibly describe the many emotions that this building with four solid walls had invoked within me. It helped that I was alone, it magnified the size of the structure and the vibrancy of the colours shining through the stained glass windows, there was no audio or digital noise interfering with the colourful energy surrounding me.
I had not yet educated myself regarding the history of this magnificent hall, except reading briefly that the area was founded in 1093, and that the community within had barely survived the black plague in 1348. I later learned that it is the largest Abbaye in France, with it’s refectory 45 meters long and it’s church 20 meters high. The monks were looking for somewhere isolated and hidden from the outside world to build their abbey, so they chose the bottom of the Corbieres massif valley. In 1908, after the departure of the monks, the abbey was bought by Gustave and Madeleine Fayat and is still privately owned.
The gardens are also spectacular, complete with a rose garden with no less than 2500 rose bushes and religious and cultivated medicinal plants. I implore you, next time you are in the south of France, visit Abbaye de Fontfroide, I’m confident you will have an experience to remember. I hope to revisit someday and spend more time in admiration.