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The village of Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire - and the abbey that attracts the visitors here - are found to the south west of Orleans in the Loiret department - hence a reasonable distance to the east of most of the 'attractions' of the Loire Valley.
The ancient Abbey of Fleury in Saint Benoît-sur-Loire
The ancient Abbey of Fleury was built over about 200 years, being consecrated in 1218. An important and exciting religious building, the abbey is worthy of being seen and appreciated not only for its history, but also for the impressive architecture that combines the powerful Romanesque style with the more slender Gothic style.
It's an imposing building, over 100 meters long, with an interior having three naves, with the choir and transept. Inside there is a crypt housing the remains of St. Benedict.
The striking outside of the church has mighty arcades with round arches supported by pillars and the entrance portal, which is engraved with an impressive array of figures and sacred subjects. The tympanum (above the door) is spectacular, with the powerful figures of Christ and the evangelists who were at his side. Note also the capitals with carved sacred stories, like those of the Apocalypse.
Inside the abbey, the choir has two rows of windows, separated by a “triforium”, with the lower set smaller than those located higher up. The colonnade revolves around the choir, creating, with the arches of the spans, some perspective tricks that create a remarkable visual effect. The nave, with pointed arches on two levels, has columns of Gothic style. The capitals of the nave are decorated with the stories of Abraham, Adam, Eve and St. Benedict.
The Troubled History of Saint Benoit sur Loire Abbey
Originally on the land where Saint Benoit now stands, in the beautiful valley of "Floriacum", there was a Roman villa, and the Romans themselves, because of the striking beauty of the place, called it "Vallis Aurea Floriacensis ('the Golden Valley of Fleury').
Here, in the raised area, was built the 'Castle of Floriacum' - a name that recurs in many places in France, which, for the most part, were chosen for the founding of monasteries. Hence we have a monastery of Fleury in Dijon and there was another monastery of Fleury near Rouen.
Note that although the name 'Floriacum' would appear to come from the same latin root 'flos' as the word flower (or flourishing, to describe a fruitful territory) it could also be a name that indicates ownership - since the Gallo-Roman suffix "-acum" (“Flori-acum”) indicates a possession - so Floriacum would mean 'a property of Florus'...
Over the course of centuries the abbey had many ups and downs, since it was destroyed three times during the incursions of the Normans - each time, however, it was rebuilt. Despite these hardships the Abbey had a period of great cultural vitality and brilliance, particularly between the 10th and 11th centuries when it was an important cultural and scientific centre. It had also a huge library, with a school and a "Scriptorium" among the most productive creator of manuscripts of the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the great Abbey Library was destroyed by the Huguenots during the Wars of Religion.
Worse again during the French Revolution the Abbey was verybadly damaged. The Benedictines eventually reclaimed the ancient site of their abbey and, in the late 1950s they restored it.
The Church is built in an area that lends itself well to picnics in a region rich in natural interest, and is well placed to stop in many restaurants, where you can enjoy some traditional and regional dishes with the classic wines of Loire. The Chateau of Sully-sur-Loire is a few kilometres distant.