Cistercian Abbey of Silvacane Silvacane - Abbaye de Silvacane
The former Cistercian Abbey of Silvacane lies near the little village of La Roque-Anthéron on the left bank of the Durance, below the Montagne du Lubéron, 25km/15.5mi north-east of Salon and 26km/16mi north-west of Aix-en-Provence.The name of the abbey comes from the Latin "silva cannorum" (forest of reeds) and signifies that the area was formerly marshland. The monastery was founded in 1144 by Raymond des Baux and transferred to the Cistercians. Unlike other Cistercian monasteries, Silvacane does not lie far from civilization, but is situated where important transport routes meet. Previously there had been a monastic community here which had cared for the spiritual well-being of travelers crossing the Durance. Work on the building was not begun until 1175 and the church was finished in 1230, during which period the Gothic style of architecture had already established itself in the north of France. The cloister and monastery buildings followed around 1250-1300, while the refectory was not erected until the 15th C., during a short new burst of activity. In 1443 Silvacane then came under the cathedral chapter of Aix-en-Provence and became the parish church of nearby La Roque-Anthéron, long after it had become completely insignificant as a monastery. Like many other ecclesiastical properties it was sold during the French Revolution and was intended to have been torn down to provide building materials. However in 1846 the government acquired the estate and this resulted in extensive restoration work being carried out.
Official site: www.abbaye-silvacane.com/#&panel1-1
Address: 13640 La Roque d'Anthéron, F-13640 La Roque d'Anthéron, France
Opening hours: May 28 to Sep 30: 9am-7pm
Oct 1 to May 27: 10am-1pm, 2pm-5pm; Closed: Tue
Oct 1 to May 27: 10am-1pm, 2pm-5pm; Closed: Tue
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), All Saints' Day - Christian (Nov 1), Remembrance Day / 1918 Armistice Day (Nov 11), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €6.50, Group discounts €5.30, Concession or reduced rate €4.50
Although Silvacane has a very simple design (only rectangular elements), the delayed and protracted period of its construction has meant that a certain watering-down is discernible in the strict building principles of the Cistercian Romanesque style. The powerful buttresses on the facade, transept and choir, initially designed for static reasons, convey a certain unity of structure; the outer windows in the east and west fronts (especially the round window over the main doorway) are not cut straight into the wall, but show a varyingly profiled outline. The main doorway is stepped with pillars and capitals, the latter decorated with flower-buds. The top of the tower has a charming effect with its round-arched sound arcades (and a four-sided pyramidal roof to complete it). Over the doorway on the west facade the coat of arms of the cathedral chapter of Aix is to be seen; it was put up on the occasion of the transfer of Silvacane to the diocese in the 15th C.
The nave in Abbaye de Silvacane with its three bays and ogival barrel-vaulting is linked to the long reaches of the transept; the main and side choir chapels are barrel-vaulted. The slope from south to north is hidden from the eye by means of a wall at base level running along the northern side aisle. The ribbed vault of the crossing was probably inserted at a later date, as it assumes a knowledge of Gothic building methods. As a whole the interior of Silvacane is stronger and fashioned less sparingly than Sénanque or Le Thoronet; the rectangular girders of the vaults and side aisles, and of the arcades running lengthways, are all lined with half-pillars (in the central aisle resting on consoles which have several steps). The capitals of these half-pillars are embellished with leaf decorations (partly very archaic, partly sophisticated and revealing Gothic forms). A progression in both building techniques and in aesthetics can be detected in the varied vault shapes of the side aisles.
As was usual in Cistercian monasteries, there was direct access from the church to the cloister and to the monastic buildings. A staircase leads down from the northern side aisle to the small cloister, at a level 1.6m/5.25ft lower, and full of atmosphere. It has barrel-vaults which in the corners penetrate through to a cross-ridge vault. The very simple, Romanesque-looking round-arched arcades which lead through to the garden were originally subdivided with a double pillar (which in some cases has been retained), which carries two pointed arches, and a round window (oculus). The fact that the building was erected during the Gothic period is discernible in the shapes of the girders, consoles and capitals; the whole impression is significantly more "Gothic" than that created by the church.
The conventual buildings of Silvacane are situated lower down. The chapter house has six cross-vaulted bays, which inside are supported by two contrasting and elaborately shaped pillars. The chapter house is connected to the dormitorium on the upper floor by a staircase. The monks' hall was fitted with a fireplace (as a heated room) and also served as a writing-room. The refectory, which because of the natural slope of the land, was built at cellar level, dates from the 15th century and has four-bay ribbed vaults. Its windows shows the Gothic influence in their pointed arches and tracery and the capitals have Late Gothic leaf embellishments; of special interest is the rose window in the eastern bay.A converse building (building for the lay brothers), which was a normal feature of Cistercian monasteries, has not been preserved.
Map - Cistercian Abbey of Silvacane
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