Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sénanque Abbey, a pastoral setting in the Luberon

We think that if you are in the Vaucluse, that you should visit Gordes and Roussillon in the Luberon, two of the most beautiful villages of France. If you are lucky enough to be in Provence from late June through the middle of July, make sure you take time to visit nearby Sénanque Abbey.

The Sénanque Abbey is a beautiful Cistercian abbey located in a deep valley a short distance north of Gordes and well worth a visit anytime you are in the area. But right now is the perfect time to go as the lavender fields that stretch out from the Abbey are in full bloom.

You can drive to the Abbey from Gordes on the narrow D177 road or if you are feeling energetic you can hike there on the GR6 hiking trail. Along the way, you will come upon an "aerial" view of the Abbey down in the deep Senancole valley where the Sénanque Abbey is located.

As you can imagine, the distinctive fragrance of the lavender and buzz of bees fills the air.

Niece Leslie pauses for a moment to sniff the lavender.

Rows of lavender with the apse of the Sénanque Abbey in the background.

The Sénanque Abbey was founded in 1148 under the patronage of Alfant, bishop of Cavaillon, and Raymond Berenger II, Count of Provence, by Cistercian monks who came from Mazan Abbey in the Ardeche. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Abbey reached its greatest height, operating four mills, seven granges and possessing large estates in Provence

During the Wars of Religion, the quarters for the lay brothers were destroyed and the Sénanque Abbey was ransacked by Huguenots. At the French Revolution, the Abbey's lands were nationalized, the one remaining monk was expelled and Sénanque itself was sold to a private individual.

The site was repurchased in 1854 for a new community of Cistercian monks of the Immaculate Conception, under a rule less stringent than that of the Trappists. The community was expelled in 1903 and departed to the Order's headquarters, Lerins Abbey on the island of St. Honorat, near Cannes. A small community returned in 1988.

The interior of the abbey church looking north toward the apse. The church is aligned to the north, instead of to the east, because of the narrow width of the valley in which it sits. The Sénanque Abbey does not have a main entrance door because the church was built only for the monks and lay brothers, not the public.

The cloister aisles are passages between the church, the dormitory and other parts of the Abbey.

The cloister forms an enclosed courtyard in the center of the Abbey, surrounded by the cloister aisles on all four sides.

The Sénanque Abbey is an active community with a handful of elderly monks. This is a room for meditation with a chair for each monk. The monks grow the lavender and tend to honey bees to earn income for living and upkeep of the Abbey.

The monk's dormitory at Sénanque Abbey is on the upper level of the north side between the entry and the church. It was built as a continuation of the transept in the church. The dormitory could house about 30 monks. The space for each monk is marked out by colored paving stones on the dormitory floor.

The Sénanque Abbey along with two other early Cistercian abbeys in Provence, Silvacane Abbey and Le Thoronet Abbey, are sometimes referred to as the "Three Sisters of Provence"

We have been to the Sénanque Abbey many times during different times of the year. Shirley was just saying that she recalls the first time we visited Senanque on a cold day in January and how we were struck by the beauty of the place even on a foggy morning.

So make sure you go to the Abbey, especially if you are lucky enough to be in the area now. Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great day, chat soon!


  1. The Sénanque Abbey looks a wonderful place to visit and your photos are great. Seeing that lavender I would only want to go there at this time of the year. I love my few lavender plants but I cannot compete with this. Wonderful. Have a great day Diane

  2. Next weekend I am finally visiting Gordes and Roussillon for the very first time!

  3. Thanks for the heavenly trip through the lavender fields and the abbey! What a great way to earn your living,growing lavender and living in such a beautiful place.This must be the most photographed abbey in Provence with the lines of lavender . Must put it on my bucket list!

  4. Diane - You are right, this time of year is the best time to go visit Senanque. But it has a majesty in that valley that is hard to explain anytime you go.

    Sara - As the French would say "Profite bien". I am happy to hear you are going to go as they are two of our favorite villages in Provence.

    Talesfromagarden - You are most welcome. I am glad you enjoyed the visit. I am sure Senanque is not only one of the most photographed abbeys in Provence, it is one of the most photographed places of any kind.

  5. Another great post, as usual. Thanks!

  6. very pretty. We haven't visited this one, but we have visited Silvacane.

  7. Megan - I visited Silvacane a couple of weeks ago too but neither the location or grounds are nearly as nice as Senanque. You should really visit Senanque if you get some time.