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Romainmotier, Switzerland's Oldest Abby

Romainmotier, Switzerland's Oldest Abby

April 4, 2011
Posted in: Totally Random | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Romainmotier, Switzerland's oldest abby, established around 500. A 14th century bell tower faces the front of the abby. It's a quiet Monday morning. You could hear a pin drop in the town of roughly 500 people. 

The abby's exterior and archelogical findings tell a 2000 year old story of numerous transformations in spiritual theory and civilization. A monastary founded by Saint Romain in 515, it had been under the rule of various kings, abbots and Popes, it's most notable, the Cluny order.

The only trace of the richness of the monastery during the 8th century is this piece above, which decorates the entrance of the choir today. In 910, the abby falls under the Benedictine order and is dedicated to the Saints Peter and Paul, thus beginning it's early association with the abbot Cluny.  For two centuries Romainmotier becomes the center of the Christian world.

The painting and decorative sculputres of the church interior reflect the Gothic and Romantic eras, during  the Golden Age, just five centuries before the abby will experience the Reformation.

The Reformation brings secularisation to the site and it's architecture. In the name of the new faith, all sculptures are destroyed, and cloisters and most of the monastery buildings are demolished, except for the prior's house. Certain parts of the church are then used for storage of grain and tithe.

In the 19th century, parts of Romainmotier are sold by the canton of Vaud, only the  church, the rectory, the tithe and tower belong to the state. Historians first attempt to explore its orgins and by the end of the century, the site becomes an archelogical discovery and restoration begins.

The prior's house sits at the end of the courtyard, housing a tea room.  Once believed to be a pile of rubbish, the house was discovered in 1959 by a young journalist, Katharina von Arx,and her husband, a British journalist.

It was this column that made the journalist realize that this area was historically significant. She purchased the home for a very small price--nobody wanted it--and began it's restoration. Over the years, she and her husband gave up traveling The Orient and interviewing kings and queens to restore this old home which was dismissed several times by the community as "rundown and undesirable."

Lunch is served family style in the tea-room. There is no menu. The owner of the prior's house, now a widow, tells us of her struggle to restore the home during the day, while continuing to work as a writer at night. Oh and she had a kid too. Many relate to the compromises she had to make in order to see through her vision of complete restoration of this home.

For too long the government does nothing to help her, until later she uncovers fresco's from the Middle Ages and contacts experts to understand the nature of the findings.  A gigantic renovation program finally begins and lasts for many decades to restore it's original appearance.

She gives a tour of her home and continues her story of how it was restored.

Today, the church is used for spiritual service, weddings and events. The buildings and area around it host numerous festivals and concerts almost every weekend. Certain parts of the priors home are open for banquets and events. The town hosts several murder mystery events each year. This town sure knows how to party!  That explains the quiet Monday afternoon.

I leave Romainmotier with inspirations for our home in California. After all, if a bunch of monks can go through so much transformation, surely I can make some changes to my kitchen. Now if I can just convince Mr. Wild Dingo ...

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9 comments on “Romainmotier, Switzerland's Oldest Abby”

  1. The architecture in Europe is just amazing. Nothing like that around here (although there are three nice old churches for sale in Fitchberg MA and I always thought a church would make a cool house). Love the vaulted ceilings.

    Mango Momma

  2. That is just beautiful! I wish we had things like that here near us. History like that fascinates me and I could spend hours checking all that stuff out!

  3. The designs on the ceiling look like the contemporary designs on catholic cardinal's hats? headwear? -- you know, those white pointed things they wear on formal occasions... Tres interrasant! I didn't know George Clooney had his own order...

  4. Okay. I actually don't like to travel (no, really - I think the desire snuffed out as my mother dragged my brothers and me through 99% of the Gothic cathedrals in Western Europe; I actually prefer to do what you are doing - move someplace for a few months, years, decades, whatever), but dangnabit, you have hit on that which I miss the most; traipsing medieval/ancient architecture. Maybe it's the Master's degree in Medieval History (3rd most useless degree on the face of the planet, but uber fascinating) but I am SO JEALOUS!!! I'm a sucker for Romanesque cathedrals and the surrounding buildings. So, uh, when can I come visit? ;-D

    -Dr. Liz (with a highly desirable Master's degree... heehee)

  5. You are so fortunate to have access to visiting such a wealth of history there. Thanks for sharing - we love the virtual visit.

  6. Wow, that is some pretty awesome scenery and history, great photos. We just would have been happier if it was named Iceberg-motier. That is our favorite lettuce.

    Remy and Flash

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