Abbaye de Fontevraud

As promised yesterday, I give you the end of our Loire Valley road trip.

Our final destination was the Abbaye de Fontevraud. While Fontevraud lacks the jaw-dropping, rocky tidal isle setting of Mont St. Michel, it’s actually about 100 times more interesting.

Fontevraud was the favorite hangout of a woman you may have heard of a time or two in history class: Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was once the queen of France, and later the queen of England, and one of her ten children came to be known as Richard the Lionheart. After donating riches and the final years of her life to the abbey, Eleanor was buried there. (Wait, is buried the right word when it’s an above-ground tomb inside a church? What’s that called? Entombed? Laid to rest?)

In your history class, did you happen to learn that Eleanor of Aquitaine was a badass? As if running two nations and giving birth to ten children weren’t enough, she did a lot for women’s literacy—just by dying! Before she died, she designed her own tomb, picturing herself reclining with a book. According to the Abbey, it was the first notable example of the outrageous, revolutionary image of a woman reading, and it started a trend: Woman Reading came to be a popular motif in the art of the time.

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Pretty Good Woman in History and a very Classy Broad. I'm considering name a beer after her. Literate Lager? Bookish Broads Brew? Double Queen Double Hopper?

Turns out, the whole abbey was a proto-feminist hotspot. Its founder, Robert d’Arbrissel, had the radical idea that women should be welcome in the church…albeit for some sketchy reasons. The man  is also notorious for advocating a practice of [commence exaggerated air quotes + eyeroll] testing one’s self-restraint [end airquotes + eyeroll] by lying naked with the opposite sex without touching.

Nonetheless, it was revolutionary for his time to welcome such scandalous figures as repentant prostitutes. Before his death, Robert even put women in charge of the abbey. Women continued to run it for as long as it as used as an abbey.

Pretty, right? You might not think so if you were there during the century or so that it was used as a prison. (Most of the old abbeys and castles have been used as prisons at some point in their long histories.)

That weird building to my right was the kitchen. No one knows why they made it so complicated. I blame it on the women.

Gorgeous scenery, huh? We were lucky to be there on such a perfect spring day.

And now I’m back to being desperately bored in Angry Town.


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