The Royaumont Abbey, France's Treasure: Background information when reading In Falling Snow

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In Falling Snow

by Mary-Rose MacColl

In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl
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    Aug 2013, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Beyond the Book:
The Royaumont Abbey, France's Treasure

Print Review

The Royaumont Abbey, where much of In Falling Snow is set, is located approximately 18 miles (30 kilometers) north of Paris in Val-d'Oise.

Dedicated in 1228 CE, the structure was commissioned by King Louis IX as a Cistercian abbey. The Cistercian order was established by a group of Benedictine monks in the Cîteaux Abbey around the year 1098. Their intent was to return to a strict observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict, and their order was known for its austerity and seclusion as well as a return to manual labor, particularly fieldwork. Cistercian architecture reflects these values, being simple and utilitarian and lacking adornment (elaborate architecture was considered a distraction). The abbeys are in remote valleys for isolation, and built, where possible, using smooth, pale stone. Royaumont remains a classic example of this type of architecture.

Construction of Royaumont Abbey was completed in 1235, and Louis IX visited often. It remains the final resting place of several members of the French royal family, including three of Louis's children and two of his grandchildren. It became a place of relaxation for kings and high-ranking churchmen until the French Revolution.

The Royaumont Abbey In the early 1790s the abbey was dissolved and the church destroyed. The remaining buildings and lands were sold as national property. Between 1791 and 1864 it was developed into a large textile factory – spinning thread, weaving cotton; producing laundry canvas and printed fabrics of wool and silk. Although stones from the abbey were used to build workers' quarters, the sacristy, cloister and refectory remained intact and are still visible today.

Nuns from The Contemplative Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux (founded in 1859) acquired Royaumont in 1869 and re-established a religious congregation there. They also undertook restoration of the building and grounds - the best-known addition was a garden made up of four symmetrical grass plots with a basin at the center to symbolize the Garden of Eden.

The Goüin family, wealthy French industrialists and bankers, purchased the property in 1905, and in 1912 the owners commissioned a new garden for the cloister by celebrated landscape architect Achille Duchêne (1866–1947) who resurrected the traditional French garden. During WWI, it served as a field hospital run by a team of Scottish doctors and nurses, its remoteness helping to preserve it from the damage incurred by many other French buildings (the abbey was very close to the fighting - it is about 13km southwest of Chantilly, part of the "Western Front" during the hostilities of World War I). In 1936, owners Henry and Isabel Goüin began holding public concerts and in 1938 opened a hostel for artists and intellectuals. Royaumont was listed as a historic monument in 1948.

Today it serves as a cultural center providing professional training in music and dance, concentrating on "historically informed performance practice." The Royaumont has a very active concert series and grounds are open for tours 365 days a year. The property includes a bookstore and a café. Pink Floyd performed live in 1971; the recording of the concert shows the interior of the abbey.

The abbey's website allows you to take a virtual tour.

Picture of Royaumont Abbey corridors from Wikipedia.com by Donar Reiskoffer

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article is from the October 2, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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