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Friday, October 14, 2011

Le Thoronet Abbey

The cloisters

The lavabo

Church interior
Nested in amongst the cork oak tree forest of Le Thoronet village is the remains of a fine old Cistercian monastery, a place of quiet beauty and one I like to share with visitors to the Provence.
There are only few abbeys in the Provence; Le Thoronet, situated between Draguignan and Brignolles is one of three Cistercian abbeys known collectively as the “The Three Sisters of Provence.”
Built between 1160 and 1230, the monastery originally housed 20 monks and many lay brothers. These lay brothers, mostly of peasant class were not bound by religious duties but  were responsible for all the manual labor on the estate especially in the making of olive oil and wine, the main source of income for the abbey.
The screw operated olive oil press and some eighteenth century wine vats that the laymen used to make wines are still housed in the cellar.
The abbey was built according to the rule of Saint Benedict -- an abbey must be situated far from economic centers and should have everything necessary – water, a mill, a garden, a bakery so the monks have no need to roam outside which is in no way beneficial to their souls.
The architecture at Thoronet Abbey is a fine example Roman Provencal art. It also reflects simplicity, strength and sobriety.
The walls of the church, dormitories and cloisters are made of dry pressed stone blocks cut and assembled by hand using ancient techniques.
Most impressive though, especially to musicians, is the acoustic property of the church – approximately 12 seconds of reverberations (second after the Taj Mahal) Often the tour  would end  in the church with the tour guides singing – quite  spectacular for visitors.
Concerts are held in the church during the summer.
I attended a concert here one September evening. The sun poured into this simple but majestic church without decoration, without distraction as I listened to the choir perform the Gregorian Requiem – a moving and uplifting experience.

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