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Abbaye St. Jean d'Orbestier
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3kms south of Les Sables d'olonne the ’Abbey stands facing the sea.
The foundation of the Abbey of Saint-Jean Orbestier dates from 1107.
Nine centuries later it is still as imposing abbey church which
has survived the abandonment of history, it is hard to imagine how
the Benedictine monks have shaped the land and the local economy from
this abbey. Their spiritual influence finally ceased in the eighteenth
In this locality of "Orbestier" ( latin for "the end of the world"
) the monks undertook the clearing of hundreds of hectares of land
covered with forests, thickets, shrub and ponds. They were the
benifacters of Guillaume IX and had protection from Richard the Lion
Heart. It was on these hunting grounds of the lords of Talmont that the
monks developed a farm with vineyards, salt marshes, mills, fisheries
and other crops, these farms were entrusted to settlers and farmers.
The trials of fire and war
In 1251 the first fire, whose origin remains unknown, ravaged the monastery.
In 1340, the beginning of the Hundred Years War, British troops set fire to the new abbey.
Two centuries later, the Wars of Religion cause 3rd
destruction in 1569 and 1570. Protestants and Catholics fought over the
land resulting in fire, looting and the confiscation of income and
land. The XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, despite
different modes of management and recovery efforts, the abbaye
declined with the owners of the Abbey, the Diocese of Lucon declaring
the permanent closure of the monastery in 1769.
Two centuries of neglect
For two centuries the abbey was to experience all the horrors of the
time. During the Revolution, the abbey was sold as national property.
Land and buildings are put to agricultural use.
The church is totally abandoned, and the roof collapsed in 1912.
At the end of the Second World War, the French Government bought the
site. The Ministry of Education installed a school. Which still stands
there today. The southern facade of the building is very typical of Art
Deco architecture of the 30s.
But the church, with all its neglect threatened to be lost for ever
Restoring end XXth century
The City and a handful of volunteers gathered to form an
association Eventually the Government were persuaded to sell the
abbey church in the town in 1989. But it will take ten years and several
work programs involving many partners to permanently save the building.
The walls and roofs are now well restored,
The abbey of Saint-Jean Orbestier has become centre for cultural events, including exhibitions of modern art.
In 2007 an exhibition designed by the Heritage Unit marked the establishment of the abbey as an art centre.
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