The monastic city
The church Notre-Dame dedicated by the pope Pascal II in 1107, was 120 meters long, the bell tower Holly Cross 72 meters high and the nave 27 meters. More than 400 dependences allowed La Charité to become “the elder girl of Cluny”.

The rise and fall of the monastery. The monastery through the ages

In 1059 the powerful order of Cluny decided to build a priory in “SEYR” (the original name of the town). The priory became the heart around which the town developed. The place was an easy crossing for the river Loire, with the wooden bridge the monks built and it soon became a major stop on the road to Santiago de Compostella, in Spain, and an important part of the Clunisian network. The priory was one of the five ‘eldest daughters’ of the mother abbey in Cluny, Burgundy, and reigned over 45 priories, 400 dependencies and obediences in France and elsewhere in Europe. It had also many sister abbeys, including five in England (Lewes, Arthington, Castle Acre, Lenton, and Pontefract priories).

In the 12th century the huge “Notre Dame” Church was the second largest in Christendom after Cluny; it was 120m long, had 10 bays and the vault was 27 m high. More than 200 monks lived in the property, which covered three hectares.
The hundred years’ war and the subsequent wars of religion gradually weakened the town, which was strategically located between Burgundy and the Berry. In 1429, during the battle between the king of England and the king of France, Joan of Arc tried to enter the town but was unable to overcome the fortifications and was forced to stay across the river in the Berry. This fact was later used against her at her trial in Rouen. After the cessation of fighting between the Protestants and the Catholics, the King gave four cities to the Protestants to allow them to pray in freedom and practice their faith. La Charité was one of them and there is still a Protestant temple in the town. A seven-day fire in 1559 devastated the nave of the church, half of the houses and most of the town and the priory, but the choir was preserved.
Much renovation work was carried out in the 17th and 18th centuries. The nave was rebuilt over 4 bays instead of the original 10 (remnants of the other bays can be seen on the façade of the tourist office in front of the church).
After the French revolution the monks had to leave and the priory was sold and used by tradesmen and as housing, which helped preserve it.

Notre Dame Church

Although the current nave dates from the end of the 17th century, the choir and the transept have retained their elegant 11th and 12th century architecture. The church of Notre Dame is especially well known for its rich sculptures, especially the remarkable series of capitals and pilasters, as well as two tympanums.
The first, the tympanum of the virgin, is still in its place at the foot of the Sainte Croix clock tower. In 1840, the second, on the subject of the transfiguration, was moved inside the church to preserve it. The church was classified as a historic monument by Prosper Mérimée, the official inspector for historic buildings. This fact saved it from destruction, when the route of the Royal Road from Paris to the south was deviated to avoid cutting the church in two.
The church has been registered as a world heritage site by l’UNESCO since 1998, as part of the route to Saint Jacques de Compostella from Vézelay.

The priory today

Since 2001 the Clunisian Priory of La Charité-sur-Loire has been one of the biggest restoration sites in Burgundy. In 2003, the Benedictine gardens and St Laurent Church were the first monuments to be restored, and the chapter house and one of the cloister galleries were inaugurated in January 2008. The priory is gradually coming out of the shadows and today it offers a fascinating look at the town and its history. In the high season the priory hosts many shows and concerts, bringing it back to life.
Article over 10 years of restauration and of contemporary creation.

An anecdote

During the hundred years’ war, Joan of Arc tried to take the town, but failed because of the formidable warlord Périnnet Gressard. This was her only defeat, and was one of the facts used against her during her trial, when it was said ‘God’s messenger would never have been defeated’. The imposing ruins of Périnnet Gressard’s feudal castle can be seen at Passy-les-Tours (in the commune of Hameau de Varennes les Narcy very close to Varennes-les-Narcy).

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