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Bell Tower Valbonne Abbey
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© Christine Till
Excavations carried out in the hills surrounding Valbonne in the Alpes-Maritimes in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Southern France, bear witness to the presence man going back to the first centuries AD in this part of the Côte d’Azur. Roman tiles, fragments of amphorae and dolia and aqueducts that supplied Antibes confirm Roman presence.
In 1199, Guillaume, of the pure Benedictine monastic order of Chalais, made his way to this isolated valley between the Riou Merlet and the Brague rivers where he founded the Abbey of Sainte Marie de Valbonne (or 'Ancien Couvent Chalaisien'), to which a new township was added 320 years later. Set on the bank of the River Brague, in an isolated and wooded valley, the abbey fitted nicely with the Chalaisian rules of solitude and silence in an hermitage structure while being well placed for the monks' activities of sheep farming and forestry, but soon the plague and widespread looting drove the hermits to flee. In the late 13th century and in the early 14th century, all the abbeys and priories were suppressed and the Chalaisian order eventually disappeared because the monks were too poor to survive.
At the beginning of the 16th century Augustin de Grimaldi, then bishop of Grasse, urged residents of neighboring villages to settle again in the Valbonne valley and to build a village near the abbey. The place was called Vallis Bona (the good valley), later Valbonne.
The L'Abbaye de Valbonne is a good example of a Chalaisian Romanesque construction, very close to the simplified Cistercian primitive style. Of modest dimensions because of the relatively small size of the community - from 15 to 30 members at the most - the abbey church is remarkable for the quality of the materials used and the careful workmanship of its construction. Fine-grained stone quarried from a nearby site was cut and precisely shaped with hammer and chisel so that it could be mounted almost without the use of mortar. The monastery buildings have been well preserved.
December 9th, 2012
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