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A surprising abbey church

Vue des voûtes de l'abside de l'église, qui se rejoigne comme une étoile au niveau de la clef de voûte

Pure and elegant, the abbey church at Beaulieu-en-Rouergue impresses with its clarity and sobriety. But look closely! Its decorations are discreet and delicate, never chosen at random. Discover this very special building!

A remarkable building

Begun in the 13th century, Beaulieu's abbey church is sober and elegant. With a length of 75 meters and a total absence of furnishings, it has a simple layout: a single nave, a transept, two chapels with flat chevet, a choir topped by a gambrel tower and a polygonal apse. The whole is topped by ribbed vaults The keystones are emblematic of Gothic architecture.

This architectural technique allows for higher elevations: the nave of the church, for example, reaches a height of 16 meters, reinforced by external buttresses.

The Beaulieu abbey church is a "southern" Gothic style, typical of the Toulouse region, where Gothic principles developed in the Île-de-France region blend with local building traditions. Religious buildings are built around a single nave, with marked murality and few openings.

Here, however, ten lancet windows   punctuate the nave's five bays, with a further seven opening the apse to the east. For the Cistercians, light has a special, highly symbolic importance.

View of the apse of the church.
View of the apse of the abbey church

Éric Sander / Centre des monuments nationaux

At the heart of monastic life

For Cistercian monks, daily life is organized and guided by the Rule of Saint Benedict .

The church plays a central role in the organization of monastic life, hosting the various services that punctuate the day. The monks would go there several times a day, either from their dormitory (the door leading to today's museum trail made this possible), or from the cloister, the abbey's main thoroughfare.

Small alcoves, still visible in the walls, housed items needed for the services ( armoriums), or for the purifications required by the rite (washbasins).

View of the interior of the church with the shadow cast by the western rose window on the ground and the triptych by the artist Serpan in the apse
Interior of the Beaulieu abbey church

Éric Sander / Centre des monuments nationaux

A pure, elegant decorative program

The abbey church is characterized by elegant sobriety. For Cistercian monks, the absence of decorative elements (whether sculpted or painted) is a kind of commitment and representation of theausterity to which they commit themselves by taking their monastic vows.

Nevertheless, a discreet but highly symbolic decorative program is visible throughout the church.

To begin with, take a look at the engaged columns all around the church: more or less identifiable plant motifs are depicted on the capitals, the upper part of the columns, or on the abutments.  .

Next, look up at the keystones  . You'll find a Mystic Lamb in the apse   It represents Christ sacrificing himself to redeem the sins of mankind.

You'll see flowers: the one in the south chapel (on the access side to the museum trail) is a rose, symbolizing the Virgin Mary, whose cult was important to the Cistercians. She appeared to Saint-Bernard  the patron saint of the Cistercians. This flower, rich in symbolism, is now honored in the rose garden created at Beaulieu-en-Rouergue Abbey.

And on the north side, a mysterious hand with raised index and middle fingers is sculpted on the keystone. This traditional representation of God's blessing hand greets the monks as they pass through the Gate of the Dead on their way to their final resting place.

Finally, traces of ochre and red paint are visible on certain sections of the walls. Other historic areas of the abbey are decorated with these: can you find them?

Detail of the capitals of two columns where we see the plant decorations
Plant capitals on the columns of the Beaulieu abbey church

Éric Sander / Centre des monuments nationaux

The discreet decorations of Beaulieu-en-Rouergue Abbey

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