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(Knight Jehan d'Alluye, Baron of St Christophe and Chasteaux.
Recumbent from the Abbey of La Clarté-Dieu, now in the Cloisters Museum in New York.)

The Clarté-Dieu Abbey is a late Cistercian monastic foundation, dating from the middle of the 13th century, created ex-nihilo at the instigation of several great personalities.
He who must be considered the true founder of the abbey is the Bishop of Winchester, Pierre des Roches. This man occupied one of the most prestigious episcopal sees in the kingdom of England for thirty-three years under the Plantagenet dynasty. The origins of Pierre des Roches reveal that he had ties with Anjou, Maine, Poitou and Touraine, but it is from the latter region that he seems to have originated. Indeed, his postulation to the bishopric in 1205 was accompanied by letters from the archbishop of Tours to the pope, attesting to his legitimate birth and ordination. It is therefore highly likely that his origins in Tours influenced his choice of site. We can also assume that he was related to the seneschal of Anjou and Touraine, Guillaume des Roches, who in 1219 founded the Cistercian women's abbey of Bonlieu, located near Château-du-Loir, 9 km north of La Clarté-Dieu. The des Roches family therefore seems to have had a privileged relationship with the Cistercians; moreover, La Clarté-Dieu was not the only abbey founded by Pierre des Roches: the Cistercian abbey of Beaulieu in England was founded in the year of his accession to the episcopate and that of Netley, in accordance with his wishes after his death.

Shortly before his death in 1238, Pierre des Roches gave the abbot of Cîteaux, Guillaume de Montaigu, the sum of 3,000 gold ecus to start building a Cistercian monastery. In accordance with the wishes of the dying man, the abbot entrusted the abbots of Epau, near Le Mans, and Le Louroux,    in Anjou, with the task of choosing a site in one of the regions from which Pierre des Roches originated.

In October 1239, Jean, abbot of Epau, purchased from Ebbes de la Chaîne the fiefdom of Beluet, located in the castellany of Saint-Christophe in Touraine, for one thousand pounds of Tournois pounds. With the approval of the Archbishop of Tours, Juhel de Mathefelon, this sale was ratified by Jean II d'Alluye, Lord of Château and Saint-Christophe on the Nais.

Over the next ten years, the abbey continued to purchase the land, houses, mills and rents that remained in the fiefdom of Beluet, thereby considerably increasing its holdings.

The Abbot of Epau took care to build temporary buildings to house the first monks from Cîteaux, who settled at Clarté-Dieu on 22 July 1240. The group included an abbot, Renaud, twelve monks and three lay brothers. The names of the monks and their origins are known. The installation was therefore rapid and well-orchestrated, to say the least. However, despite the sustained efforts of Jean, abbot of l'Epau, Boniface, the new abbot of Cîteaux, declared in 1243 in a written document that the abbey of l'Epau would not benefit from the right of mother abbey over La Clarté-Dieu; the latter thus became the twenty-fifth direct daughter of Cîteaux, the mother house of the Order, thus testifying to the important place it was accorded in the filiation. It received the approval of Pope Innocent IV in 1246, followed by that of King Saint Louis in 1248. With its recognition definitively established, the abbey was able to seriously consider its development.

Monastic life

Monastic life

As soon as it was founded, the Clarté-Dieu abbey embarked on a major policy of acquiring land in order to expand and develop its initial estate. At its peak, in the early 14th century, it had twenty-nine farms and 120 inhabitants: sixty monks and sixty lay brothers. The lay brothers, who were often illiterate, were particularly suited to physical work and serving the abbeys. The two communities of nuns lived, prayed, slept and ate in separate rooms within the abbeys. Unlike the monks, who were literate and made copies of manuscripts, the lay brothers were authorised to leave the enclosure to work the abbey grounds outside.

During the Hundred Years'War, the monks of La Clarté-Dieu often had to take refuge from the depredations of the "great companies" that scoured the territory in conflict. They took refuge in the Château de Sonzay, then with the Duke of Anjou in Angers.

However, in the year of our Lord 1364, on 11 February, the abbey was pillaged by Amaury de Troo, captain of arms of Château du Loir, and Arbelot de Germaincourt, who killed a monk in the church, brother Thomas Prévôt, leaving the abbey devastated.

It was around this time that the abbey was fiited with a wall encircling the ”enclosure". However, the Hundred Years' War was coming to an end and such an investment had put a strain on the abbey's finances.

The real decline of the abbey began in 1531, when the royal power instituted the institution of "commende", under which a significant part of the income of French abbeys went directly to its abbot, an office for which the king rewarded some of his subjects, whether they were ecclesiastics or not! La Clarté-Dieu, like most of the abbeys in France, experienced growing financial difficulties, which coincided with a decline in vocations from the 15th century onwards, and a shortage of lay brothers in particular.

After surviving the end of the medieval period without much damage or upheaval, the abbey was designated by the General Chapter of Cîteaux to house the common novitiate of the ecclesiastical provinces of Tours and Angers at the end of the 17th century.

Honorat de Bueil, Marquis of Racan, the famous poet of the Pléiade, was a frequent visitor to the abbey from 1634, thanks to his friendship with Abbé Denis de Rémefort de la Grelière, whose enthusiasm led him to resume his work on the psalms of David.

During the eighteenth century, life went on apparently without much damage. However, the church and buildings underwent fairly extensive repairs, but these did not affect the west wing.

Abbés, prieurs, moines et bienfaiteurs

Abbots, priors, monks and benefactors

Cardinal Archevêque Charles de Bourbon,
abbots of Clarté-Dieu

Arms of the abbey, as a fief under the castle of Tours: "Parti, au 1 d'azur au lys d'or, au 2 d'or au lion de sinople, couronné et lampassé de gueules"

The Abbey of La Clarté-Dieu had an uninterrupted succession of abbots for 550 years, from its foundation in July 1240 until the Revolution in May 1791. There were priors at La Clarté-Dieu as early as 1446.

Abbots of Clarté-Dieu


Prior of La Clarté-Dieu
The identity of some of the priors has come down to us.


Until 1700, the priory's coat of arms was slightly different from that of the abbey: "parti au 1 d'azur au lys d'or, au 2 d'or au lion de gueules, couronné de sable".
From 1700, the Prieuré de la Clarté-Dieu adopted a new coat of arms: "d'or à la croix d'argent, cantonnée de quatre soleils du même".


Monks of la Clarté-Dieu:

Very few names of the monks of La Clarté-Dieu have survived.
The first 12 monks to arrive in 1239 were the following:
Etienne de Villac, Raoul de l'Ile, Henri d'Angles, Gilles de Montmirail, Jean de Jaennia, Jacques de Dijon, Nicolas de Beaujeu, Bannin de Besançon, Thomas de Bitilares, André de Montbazon, Etienne de Nillo, Jacques de Rumilly

Other monks are mentioned in the history of the abbey: Pierre-Augustin Lhuillier-Dumellier, son of a tax collector in Tours, died on 3 September 1761, aged 71, of which 50 were in the religious order
Michel Taffu, son of a councillor at the Presidial Court of Tours, died on 10 August 1765 at the age of 74, of which 57 were in religion
Thomas Prévôt, murdered in the church on 11 February 1364 by the soldiers of Amaury de Trôo and Arbelot de Germaincourt.

Benefactors of the abbey:

In addition to most of these abbots, priors and monks, we know that certain knights, benefactors of the abbey, were buried at La Clarté-Dieu. These include:

Jehan II d'Alluye, lord of Saint-Christophe et de Chasteaux, crusader and benefactor of the abbey, who ratified the sale of the fief of Beluet to the Cistercian monks. He died in 1248.

He is reputed to have brought back from his crusade a double-beamed cross made from the wood of the cross of Christ. The fate of this cross is unusual and you can read about its history here.

Geoffroy de Courcillon, lord of Marolles and Beaugency. He had founded an annuity of 10 tournois pounds based on his Marolles property to pay for his burial in the abbey, in 1395. His large tomb, located in the chapel of Saint-Pierre in the abbey church, was sold with the abbey during the French Revolution and no trace of it remains. His coat of arms was: « D’argent, à cinq fusées accostées de gueules. »

And an anonymous knight, whose tombstone appears to date from the middle of the 15th century.

Portraits of the past

Portraits of the past

Here are portraits of the main people involved in the history of the Clarté-Dieu abbey, from near and far...

After the revolution

After the revolution

When the French Revolution broke out, only five elderly monks remained. They were expelled from the abbey in 1791.

The monastery was finally sold as national property on 25 May 1791, and was soon to be demolished, having been acquired by a property dealer. The abbey church and the monks' building, although in a relatively good state of preservation, were almost entirely dismantled, and the south wing lost its upper storey. The stones were sold off piecemeal, and are now to be found in the walls of many houses in the surrounding villages...

Fortunately, the property dealer sold La Clarté-Dieu to Louis Alexandre de Sarcé, lord of the neighbouring Château d'Hodebert and mayor of Saint-Paterne, who stopped the planned demolition of the abbey. The abbey gradually became a farm. Despite the sometimes destructive alterations required by its new use as a farm, this saved the monument from a probable total disappearance.

Despite the inclusion of certain parts of the abbey in the Supplementary Inventory of Historic Monuments in 1932, and some restoration and maintenance work, particularly on the roof of the buildings, by its owner, Baron Robert de la Bouillerie, it was not possible to carry out any major rescue work during the 20th century.

In the 20th century, the abbey's cellars were used for mushroom production for several decades, alongside the farming activities.

The abbey in 2002

The abbey in 2002

In the southern wing, of which only parts remain, and then only on the ground floor, a real jungle had grown up in what was once an ancient hall. This jungle threatened to invade the adjoining lay brothers' refectory and bring down the remaining ogival vaults.

The buildings, particularly the main pavilion, were difficult to access because of the tangled undergrowth and trees that had fallen on the house during the storm of 1999.

Inside the main house, there were no windows, virtually no doors and no habitable rooms. There was no electricity or plumbing. Since the 1970s, the house had been inhabited and rather badly damaged by a succession of different occupants.

The lay brothers' building was a derelict barn.

The "prior's" dwelling, dating from the Renaissance and adjoining the lay brothers' building (13th century), had been somewhat transformed (false ceilings, lineau, etc.) by the former tenant, and had remained uninhabited since his departure.

The three entrance buildings were in a deplorable state, with their roofs in ruins, and the former sheepfold also had a roof that was leaking all over.

The abbey would probably end up in a slow but inexorable ruin, forgotten by all. 

An inventory was drawn up by the Heritage Department in 1999. It shows the history and development of the abbey up to the end of the 20th century. You can consult it on the Mérimée database from this link.

The work carried out

The work carried out

Nettoyage du cloître

We began by clearing the site. It was a relatively long and exhausting job, given the extent to which the site had been colonised by nature, which was determined to reclaim its rights over the built heritage. We also unearthed an incredible amount of agricultural and even household rubbish, which littered the site in various places, notably inside the large pavilion where the abbey's latrines were located.

Then, one by one, we took action to rescue the elements that appeared to be the most problematic. In 2002, for example, we had tie-rods installed to secure the walls of the lay brothers' building, which were swaying significantly under the weight of its detached framework.

From 2002 to 2012, our restoration work focused on the following areas:

- Renovation of the large pavilion to make it habitable (there was a huge amount of structural work and interior refurbishment lasting several months: work on the walls, floors and ceilings, creation of water and electricity networks, installation of central heating and window frames, start of restoration of the facades, etc.);

- Restoration and fitting out of the large storeroom in the converses building so that it can be used by the public for various events (creation of a floor, electrification, adaptation of window frames, relocation and protection of a wine press, obtaining approval to receive the public, etc.).;

- Restoration of the roof and interior fittings (creation of sanitary facilities and kitchens) of the former sheepfolds, so that they can be used as a service building for the abbey's tourist and cultural activities;

- Restoration of the roofs of the gatehouse, the former stables and the large entrance barn to accommodate a cabinet-making workshop, a future visitors' shop and a space for courses and seminars;

- Restoration and refurbishment of the former farmer's dwelling to restore it to its original 16th-century state, and creation of sanitary facilities;

- Repair of numerous walls (dwelling, southern wing, cemetery path, low canal wall, etc.);

- Clearing the cloister, which had been filled with rubble for the needs of the farm, in order to restore the building, which suffered from frequent flooding, and clearing of the cloister staircase.

Some specific works, or those requiring specialist work, were carried out by craftsmen (carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, etc.), but most of the work was carried out by us. Despite the limited means at our disposal, we were able to carry out a great deal of work to save and refurbish La Clarté-Dieu. 

Fortunately, we have often been helped by our children, who are also passionate about this place, and by a few friends who are motivated and devoted to the abbey's cause, through their work and their judicious advice. We have also managed to obtain some external funding, in particular from the Conseil Général d'Indre-et-Loire, and from Europe, which has been a great help.

The abbey today

The abbey today

After a period when farming was abandoned in the 1990s, followed by mushroom growing, the abbey was acquired by new owners in April 2002, and is now enjoying a new lease of life. 

After a few years devoted to clearing the land and uncovering the remains, the site is coming back to life with new activities:

Work to be undertaken

First of all, this unique heritage site is now open to visitors.

At the same time, a number of arts and crafts workshops have been set up.

Two festivals are now organised by two associations (Les Clartés Musicales: jazz and world music festival, and Les Amis de la Clarté Dieu: classical music festival).

Exhibitions bring the site to life, and it also attracts professionals and private individuals looking for an unusual venue for their receptions or events.

The site has been listed as a Historic Monument since 2011.

La Clarté-Dieu was awarded the "Old French Homes" departmental prize in 2012, and was a winner of the "Crazy about Heritage" competition in 2013.

Winner of the 2014 Trophées Initiatives locales competition organised by Crédit Agricole Touraine Poitou.

The abbey took part in the program " Let's save our treasures" with Stéphane Bern.
It was selected for the heritage lottery in 2018.

Work to be undertaken

The work to be undertaken is at least as extensive as that carried up to now.

The rescue work is on a huge scale, both in terms of the size of the elements to be saved and their heritage interest.

The work to be undertaken today concerns the parts of the abbey buildings themselves, dating from the end of the 13th century:

- the lower room (in the southern wing, which has been partly destroyed): a magnificent vaulted room with a square floor plan, remarkable for its purity in a very Cistercian style;

- the lay brothers' dormitory, with its exceptional roof frame, for which emergency work was carried out in 2017, but which needs to be completely restored to save it (the only roof frame of this style and size still in existence in the Centre region).

Finally, in 2019, the abbey has just won the "Trophy for the most beautiful restoration" awarded by Le Figaro Magazine, Propriété le Figaro, the foundation for Historic Monuments in partnership with La Demeure Historique (Historical Homes).

2023 VMF prize for the restoration of the Abbaye de la Clarté Dieu. Mécène Foncière Rhodanienne 

La Clarté-Dieu Abbey is part of the network of Cistercian Abbeys and Sites in Europe.

These two buildings are under constant threat. We're really afraid that the next storm or winter will cause them to collapse completely.

Given that La Clarté-Dieu is a listed site, these two projects will be carried out as part of the work on historic monuments. Our goal today is to save the jewels in the crown of the Clarté-Dieu, namely the framework of the converses' dormitory and the fine remains of the refectory. We will use all the funds we can raise for these projects.

Of course, after these two absolutely priority and crucial works, many other works will have to be carried out on other buildings, such as the continuation of the structural work, the interior fittings, and the creation of doors and windows for the future shop in the Porterie and the fitting out of the old stables, the continuation of the restoration of the surrounding walls and other retaining walls, the enhancement of the cellars, and the decoration and general embellishment of the site (recreation of the monastic gardens, restoration of the marshes, etc.).

We are open to all ideas and partnerships that could help to save and develop the Clarté-Dieu abbey. We welcome all goodwill! If you have time, energy, passion or ideas to share, please contact us.

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