The Women's Abbey
Founded around 1060 by Matilda of Flanders, William the Bastard's spouse, the Abbaye-aux-Dames (Women's Abbey) was consecrated on 18th June 1066 and dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
Up until the French Revolution, this Benedictine abbey accommodated young girls from the Norman aristocracy.
Over the centuries, the convent gradually deteriorated and, at the beginning of the 18thcentury, the abbess, Madame Froulay de Tessé, undertook its reconstruction. The project was entrusted to a Benedictine monk and architect, Dom Guillaume de la Tremblaye. This rebuilding took nearly a century to complete (1702-1788).
During the 18th century, in addition to the nuns and novices, the abbey took care of the education of some convent boarders, the most famous of whom was Charlotte Corday.
The Revolution brought about the closing of the convent in August 1792. It then became a barracks and the church became a fodder warehouse.
In 1809, a ‘poorhouse’ was established inside the abbey in order to combat vagrancy. After that institution failed, the shelter closed its doors in 1818.
In 1823, the buildings became the ‘Hôtel-Dieu’ and then the ‘Hospice Saint-Louis’ in 1908.
In 1983, the buildings were bought by the Regional Council of Lower Normandy which, after two years of rehabilitation work, took possession of these places steeped in history.
The Abbey Church
Built between 1060 and 1080, the abbey church is a masterpiece of Norman Romanesque art.
In the chancel, the body of Queen Matilda rests under a Tournai black marble slab bearing an epitaph which praises her lineage and her immense piety.
Admire the richness of the sculptures in the half-domed apse (early 12thcentury) where the column capitals are adorned with fantastic animals taken from the bestiary and treasures brought back from the first crusade. The painting on the half-dome arch represents the Virgin Mary’s Assumption (early 18thcentury).
The crypt, probably added in the late 11thcentury in order to support the apse and compensate for the unevenness of the soil surface, presents a “forest of columns”. At the entrance, a scenic relief capital represents the Last Judgment, with Saint Michael the Archangel welcoming the dead coming out of their tombs.
In the 13thcentury, two absidioles in the south transept were replaced by a magnificent Gothic chapel.
Greatly restored in the 19thcentury, the church was cleaned in the early 1990s.