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Floette Sas Lessay Abbey

An exemplary reconstruction

The abbey was founded in the late 11th century, and right from the start, it was richly endowed with land and means of subsistence by the barons of La Haye-du-Puits. The first monks came from Bec Abbey, and Holy Trinity enjoyed a great period of prosperity until the 13th century, with several priories and a number of benefices. The wars of the late Middle Ages, and then the introduction of a commendatory regime, in other words, the naming of abbots by the king and not by the monks themselves, led to the decline of the community and the deterioration of the conventual buildings.

Lessay was spared from destruction after the French Revolution, unlike so many other religious establishments, but unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the summer of 1944, when the church was destroyed on 11 July during Allied bombing. Local residents initiated a movement in favour of its reconstruction, and a new church, rebuilt identically to the Romanesque church, was inaugurated in 1959, after a decade of research and work, under the direction of chief architect Yves-Marie Froidevaux. It is an exemplary success.
Every summer, Lessay attracts visitors thanks to a renowned music festival.

 

Abbey-Church of the Holy Trinity, Lessay (Normandy).
A magnificent expression of Romanesque.
Source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/martin-m-miles

Dotted across Europe are so many churches which are, or have been, attached to religious houses. This post concerns one such church which is almost a thousand years old attached to a former Benedictine Abbey in Normandy, France. The following description of the Abbey-Church of Sainte-Trinité (Holy Trinity) in Lessay, Normandy (France) is adapted from a brief essay found at this link.


This Benedictine Abbey was founded around 1056. By 1098 the choir of the abbey church had already been built and the nave was built in the first years of the twelfth century. The church was consecrated in 1178, but it was not fully completed at that date. It continued as a monastery until the French Revolution but became a Parish Church at that time, the monastery buildings passing into private hands.

The Benedictine plan in the form of a Latin cross is used in most of the large abbey churches of Normandy: apse with chapels to scale, abutting the aisles and the arms of the transept, and a long nave with aisles. The interior elevation is that of the Norman Romanesque churches : large arcades, an intermediate level of tribunes and high windows. The Lessay Abbey-Church features ceilings of tracery vaults : one of the earliest examples of such vaults and well before the development of rib vaults in Gothic architecture.

The church was almost totally destroyed on two occasions by war. In 1356 during the Hundred Years' War, Charles II of Navarre directed his army to destroy the Abbey and Church. The church was reconstructed between 1385 and 1420. In July, 1944, the German army, retreating after the D-Day Landing, blew-up the church, reducing large parts of it to piles of rubble. It was reconstructed with the greatest care and fidelity in the period 1945-1958 and continues to serve as a Parish church.

A more detailed history of the Abbey can be found here .


The austere nobility of Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture :
Nave and south transept, with the Crossing tower.

The rugged Crossing Tower
pierced by arcading and crowned with a pyramidal roof.
Source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/biron-philippe


The splendid ribbed vault of the nave
reconstructed faithfully after World War Two.

Source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/sgparry
The nave and crossing of Sainte-Trinité :
a perfect expression of the monumental and noble art of the Romanesque period.
A new timber sanctuary, constructed in the eastern end of the Crossing,
is indifferently furnished, but at least is all
easily removable without injury to the building.


The ruins of Sainte-Trinité in 1944 :
another sad victim of war.

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