The nearly 50-meter high white towers of the abbey erected in one of the loops of the River Seine always surprise the visitors and arouse admiration amongst them. As a consequence of its destruction, in the 19th Century, Jumièges Abbey was called “the most beautiful ruin in France”, and benefited from the image of an outdoor site impregnated with Romanticism.
Jumièges Abbey is one of the oldest and most important Benedictine monasteries in Normandy. Even if any vestige from the period of its foundation, in the 7th Century, could not be identified yet, some recent excavations on S. Peter’s church site recently allowed dating its built from the late 8th Century, which means that this building is a unique example of a Carolingian Christian church.
Yet, its archaeological value does not shadow the emotion felt while visiting Notre-Dame’s church, a beautiful example of the Romanesque architecture from Normandy.
No one could imagine the rebuilding of Jumièges was the solution to preserve the integrity and authenticity of the site. Nevertheless, some consolidation and protection works of the masonries are regularly scheduled to save its structures and adornment, and to ensure its security as far as possible.
Founded ca. 654 by St. Philibert, the abbey immediately followed the rule of St. Benedict, then thrived rapidly. In 841, it was ravaged by the Vikings whose raids forced the monks to abandon the premises for about ten years. After the Duchy of Normandy was settled, its second Duke, William Longsword, favoured its revival.
Still, it really regained some prosperity in the 11th Century, with the rebuilding of Notre-Dame’s Church, inaugurated by William the Conqueror in 1067. In 1450, Charles VII stayed in Jumièges with Agnes Sorel, his favourite mistress, who died the same year. In 1563, King Charles IX also came to Jumièges. The Maurists carried out some significant works in the 17th and 18th Centuries. In 1790, after the last monks’ departure, Jumièges Abbey was sold as a national property to a private individual who turned the site into a stone quarry from 1796 to 1824. The ruins were purchased and rescued by the Lepel-Cointet family in 1853, then by the State in 1946. The Department of Seine-Maritime has owned Jumièges Abbey since 2007
THE ABBATIAL DWELLING
The abbatial dwelling located northeast of the abbey’s ruins is the former residence of Jumièges commendatory* abbots. Its construction began in 1666 to replace the abandoned medieval dwelling house, near St. Peter’s Church, and was completed in 1671 when François II de Harlay de Champvallon, then Archbishop of Paris and Abbot of Jumièges, settled in.
The abbatial dwelling is a noble classic three-floored building with a high mansard roof and it resembles a small castle. One could access it through current rue du Quesney entrance to the cour d’honneur (a three-sided courtyard) closed by a monumental gate and flanked by two outbuildings. From its imposing façade on the park side, there is a magnificent view to the abbey ruins and, further on, to the hillocks dominating the River Seine. The coat of arms bearing St. Peter’s keys, the patron saint of the abbey, is still on the pediment of the majestic fore-part.
The abbatial dwelling was sold separately from the abbey as a national property in 1791, during the French Revolution, after which it had several owners, until it was bought in 1865 by Louis-Helmuth Lepel-Cointet, son of Aimé-Honoré Lepel-Cointet, who had already purchased the ruins and the park in 1852.
In 1946, Jumièges Abbey became a national property. A lapidary museum was installed in 1954 on the abbatial dwelling’s ground floor. Unfortunately, the abbatial dwelling was destroyed by a terrible fire on the night of August, 17-18, 1974. After the damage, some important preservation works were necessary for the building to retrieve its roof and steadiness, yet without allowing the reopening to visitors.
The Department of Seine-Maritime has owned Jumièges Abbey since 2007. They recently decided to open the abbatial dwelling to the public, which is part of their policy in favour of visual arts, and to organize prestigious seasonal exhibitions. The magnificent lapidary collection kept in the abbey is associated to the exhibitions in order to create a dialogue between these major pieces of medieval art and contemporary creations.
*Often non-resident abbots who personally perceived the ecclesiastic benefices from the abbeys of which they had received the custody.