Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon

We exited from Fort Saint André and walked down the road that runs along the wall around the Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction, the next stop on my visit with cousin André to sights around Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. The Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction is a monastery founded by Pope Innocent VI in 1536.

The road leading down from Fort St. André to the Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction

While he was a Cardinal, Pope Innocent VI owned a big townhouse and some land in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. After he was elected pope in 1532, he donated the townhouse and land to the Carthusian Order (an Order of Monks founded by Saint Bruno of Cologne in 1084) and had it rebuilt to suit the monks.

Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction

With three cloisters and 40 cells for monks, the Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction monastery was once the most important Carthusian monastery in France; it is still the largest. Today, the monastery provides lodging for aspiring playwrights and artists rent-free for up to a year. Art exhibitions are presented in the monastery throughout the year.

In 1649, the monument door entrance to the Chartreuse seen below was finished by the architect François de Royers de la Valfenière. In 1660, King Louis XIV, crossed through the door in a grand ceremony when he came to visit the Chartreuse with a large contingent including cardinal Mazarin.

Monument entrance to the Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction

You might ask like me, how it came to be, that there are so many structures related to the Catholic church across the river from Avignon. Well, during the times the popes resided in Avignon, many cardinals built luxurious palaces on the Villeneuve-lès-Avignon side of the Rhône river. Overall 15 residences for cardinals were erected in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

The Allée des Mûriers (Mulberry Ally) entry to Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction

The door of the convent church seen below is based upon a drawing of François de Royers de la Valfenière.

The door of the convent church

A chapel in the convent church

A view of Fort Saint André from the Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction

Pope Innocent VI born Étienne Aubert, and founder of the Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction, was from the Corrèze department of France and the 200th Pope of the Catholic church. He was the fifth of the seven Avignon popes. Pope Innocent VI ordered the construction of the chapel on the side of the church at the Chartreuse where he is buried.

His tomb, a monument which was removed from the Chartreuse after the French revolution, was returned to the convent church in 1959.

The tomb of Pope Innocent VI

The convent church named Saint-John-the-Baptist and then Saint-Mary was built by Pope Innocent VI between 1353 and 1356. At the time it was built, it was small, just big enough to accommodate the 12 fathers and choir of brothers. It was enlarged by order of Pope Innocent VI with a chapel for a tomb for him when he died.

The nave of the convent church

The Little Cloister seen below is part of the original Chartreuse built by Pope Innocent VI. This gallery was known as the "Galerie du Colloque" or conference gallery because on Sundays and holidays, the monks were able to come here and break their silence for a short time. The Little Cloister was the most luxurious of all the monastery.

Little Cloister

Hallway around the Little Cloister

The Sexton of the Chartreuse had dual responsibilities; first he was responsible for looking after the valuables of the monastery and second he was the person who kept the time. The latter was an important function since the life of the community was marked by regular church services and prayers. Prior to 1551 when a clock was installed in the Chartreuse, time was kept in rudimentary fashion based on such things as the crowing of roosters, stars, lighted candles, and hourglasses.

A well in the courtyard outside the Sexton's cell

The monk cells, one of which is seen below, was where the fathers spent the majority of their time. This is where they studied, did their physical and manual work, and where they prayed and ate and slept.

Monk's cell

Great Cloister

The Great Cloister was a green space and in the most southern part of the cloister near the church was the cemetery where the monks were buried.

Great Cloister with the Chapel of the Dead and Saint-John-Baptist Church

Next to the door of each monk's cell, there was little wood door through which plates of food could be passed. The passage through the wall was built such that they could not see each other and were not tempted to speak.

Hallway leading to monk's cells

A view of Fort Saint André from the Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction

When a monk died, his body was laid in the Chapel of the Dead seen in the picture below the night before his burial in the cemetery of the Great Cloister. It is said that this chapel dates from the 18th century.

Chapel of the Dead

The Chapel with Frescoes was part of the founder's original mansion. The frescoes were painted by Matteo Giovanetti during the papacy of Innocent VI. The frescoes portray scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist.

Chapel with Frescoes

Another wall of the Chapel with Frescoes

Another wall of the Chapel with Frescoes

Another wall of the Chapel with Frescoes

Saint John's Cloister was founded by Pierre de Monteruc, the nephew of Pope Innocent VI in 1372. In 1750 a dome was built over the main well.

St. John's Cloister and the main well of the Chartreuse

At the time of the French revolution, the Chartreuse was divided into lots and sold, its library and art scattered and the monastery was severely damaged.

The entrance to Les Jardins d'été café-restaurant of the Chartreuse

By the time we finished our visit to the Chartreuse de Val de Bénédiction, it was lunch time. So we hurried back to the cousin's house to have lunch with Mauricette who had stayed behind to cook for us. We smelled mouth-watering aromas from the kitchen even before we walked into the house. We sat down and filled ourselves with perfectly roasted Gigot d'Agneau (leg of lamb), little Yukon Gold potatoes roasted in the pan drippings and haricot verts. This was all washed down with some tasty Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For dessert, we had an apple tart. Fabulous! It makes me hungry just thinking about that meal again.

Bonne journée et à bientôt.


  1. My brother-in-law lives right outside the Chartreuse. Lovely place to visit!

  2. There is just so much beautiful history around France and it is so interesting to see different areas. The Chapel with Frescoes is amazing, it is on my must see one day list. Have a good Easter, Diane

  3. This is a lovely place and your photos are splendid as always, Michel.

  4. Meredith - What a nice place to live? It is very pretty around the Chartreuse.

    Diane - I hope you are having a wonderful Easter. The town of Villeneuve-les-Avignon and Avignon are definitely worth a trip from your corner of France if you get the chance.

    Barbara - Thanks Barbara. I always enjoy reading your feedback.

  5. It was nice to see these summerish pictures of La Chartreuse and Fort Saint-André, the atmosphere is very different from when my visit in March! Lovely place, indeed.

  6. Aurore - Thanks for stopping in to check out my posts and for leaving a comment. I really appreciate that. I am sure it could be quite chilling to visit La Chartreuse and Fort Saint-André in March, especially if the Mistral were blowing. Glad you enjoyed the pictures of my summer visit.