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Senanque Abbey
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Short URL
Abbaye de Sénanque Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque Senanque Abbey
Gordes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur84220
Gordes  locality
Vaucluse  county
France  country
Europe  continent
Main date(s)
43.928229° N, 5.186942° E
Opening hours
Church and abbey grounds open daily throughout the day. Abbey buildings accessible by guided tour.
€7 adults; €5 students; €3 children; free to monastics

Description of Senanque Abbey

Like all Cisterican abbeys, Sénanque is lovely in its austere beauty. With no decoration to distract the monks per the instructions of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the harmonious proportions of its Romanesque architecture can be fully appreciated.

The stone of Sénanque Abbey has weathered to a gentle heather-gray that seems to blend effortlessly with the natural landscape, especially in July and August when the sea of lavender surrounding the abbey is in full bloom. Visitors approach the abbey from the north, from which there is a panoramic view across the fields of the main apse with three windows, flanked by the low roof sheltering four apsidoles, the sacristy (tall rectangular structure), chapter house (with close-set windows) and warming house (far right, with chimneys).

The church is unique in having no central portal in its facade - another enforcement of the Cistercian ideals of modesty and simplicity. Instead, the interior is entered via two modest doors that open into the side aisles. The nave, even more beautifully harmonious than the exterior, has five bays and a gently pointed barrel vault. The choir was built first (c.1150-60), followed by the nave (after 1180).

Over the crossing is a large octagonal dome supported on squinches with six decorative foils each, reflecting the vision in Revelation of four beasts with six wings. The capitals in the crossing are decorated with intriguing geometrical figures and symbols in low relief.

The main apse behind the altar is flanked by two smaller apsidoles on each side. Dimly illuminated by a single narrow window, these are used by individual monks to celebrate Mass.

The only non-Cistercian element of the church is the fine Gothic tomb of Lord Geoffroy of Venasque, dating from the 13th century. He would have paid a high price for such an enviable resting place, next to the high altar in a devoutly austere community.

Adjoining the church are the attractive 12th-century cloisters and monastic buildings including the refectory (housing an exhibit on the history of the Cistercian order), chapterhouse, warming room and dormitory (with an exhibit on the abbey's construction). These can all be visited on a guided tour.

The gift shop at Senanque Abbey is large and excellent, offering a wide range of books on spirituality, Cistercian history and the region of Provence, as well as various products handmade by the monks.

Holly Hayes
October 11, 2011

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