We are now in the quiet Creuse valley, in the département of Indre. In the middle of nowhere, here’s the Benedictine abbey of Fontgombault, founded in the middle of the 10th century.
At that time, the hermit monk Gombault moved in a cave, near the location of our actual abbey. He lived there without ceremony, made miracles and attract some disciples. A fountain was named after him, fons Gombaldi, which means ″Gombault’s fountain″... Fontgombault.
At that time too existed a statue of Notre-Dame-des-Grottes, “Our-Lady-of-The-Caves”, worshipped at the same place Gombault used to live: a statue later replaced by the enigmatic Notre-Dame-du-Bien-Mourir...
At the end of the 11th century, the hermit Pierre de l’Etoile arrived and founded a small chapel dedicated to St-Julien. Pierre was a noble man. Tired of the royal Court’s vices and plots, he decided to devote to God. In 1091, he founded the Benedictine abbey.
The church was consecrated in 1140 to Our-Lady, and Pierre became the first abbot of Fontgombault!... then he died in 1114.
His abbey became prosperous. In the 15th century, monks even took part in the creation of the ponds of the Brenne area.
A little paradise on earth, really... until the war of Religion. In 1569, Protestants plundered everything: they only left the church’s choir! We even see false Protestant abbots ruling the abbey, since 1670: Jean de Naillac, René du Cher, then Louis de Rochefort (prince of Condé’s favourite).
By the way, Louis de Rochefort’s wife (very bigot) said that the money he get from the abbey will damn him. So the husband took the money he had in his pocket and told her: “Here’s money from Fontgombault, here’s my money.” He mixed them and said to her: “So, do you make the distinction, now?”
In 1651, abbot de Mornay tried to save the abbey but it had to close in 1741. Fontgombault was sold in 1790 and transformed into a quarry. Oh, was it the end of our beautiful abbey? No!
Because in 1849, monks from Bellefontaine came and re-raised the actual church. Then, in 1948, Benedictine monks from the abbey of Solesmes came: they still live there nowadays!
Benedictine monks live in the abbey, so we “only” visit the Romanesque church. But we can also attend the daily Mass. Even if you’re not religious, it’s nice to hear some beautiful Gregorian chants in Latin!
Monks sold several products, handmade: honey, pretty little potteries made of sandstone.
Look at the nice Romanesque portal with its sculptures and beautiful capitals flank by vegetable and animal patterns. It’s the only Romanesque element, the rest above as for instance the small crenelated turret was added several centuries later.
Inside, volumes are pretty amazing: we have 3 naves (82 metres long and 18 metres large)! At the bottom of the main nave, we can see Pierre de l’Etoile’s grave, the founder of the abbey. And don’t miss, of course the statue of Notre-Dame-du-Bien-Mourir (12th c.). Here’s her story...
People sued to worship the Virgin Mary, here, with that statue. Saved after the destruction during war of Religion, saved also during the French Revolution, we can see her in the church’s aisle.
Where her unique and only name in France comes from? People prayed her for sick persons’ recovery and the sinners’ conversion the day they died.
The legend said that during the Revolution, a man wanted to destroy the statue. But, as he came towards the Virgin with a stock, he stumbled, tottered and fell on the ground. The Virgin gave him few seconds to make a repentance.
Then, he could die in peace: yes Notre-Dame-du-Bien-Mourir means “Our-Lady-of-Good-Dying”! After this accident, people were afraid to come in this part of the abbey, because they thought they could die violently... The Virgin pilgrimage still goes on today, every year on the Pentecost.