Cadouin Abbey Church

The Abbey of Cadouin

Cadouin Abbey (French: Abbaye de Cadouin or Abbaye Notre-Dame de la Nativité de Cadouin) was a Cistercian monastery founded as a hermitage in 1115 by Gerald of Salles, in the name of Robert of Arbrissel, in what is now the commune of Le Buisson-de-Cadouin in the Dordogne, south-west France.
In 1119 Cadouin was made an abbey under its first abbot, Henri, a monk of Pontigny Abbey, the second daughter house of Cîteaux Abbey, but seems to have remained independent of the Cistercian Order until around 1199.

Cadouin founded daughter houses of its own (Grandselve Abbey, Gondon Abbey, Bonnevaux Abbey, Ardorel Abbey, La Faise Abbey and Saint-Marcel Abbey) which also became Cistercian, not necessarily at the same time as Cadouin itself.
At an uncertain date the monastery came into possession of what was believed to be the facecloth from the tomb of Christ (French: le Saint-Suaire de Cadouin), said to have been brought from Antioch by a priest of Périgord. In some traditional accounts the cloth is linked to the Bishop of Le Puy, Adhémar de Monteil, who died in 1098, but it is not documented in the possession of the abbey until 1214. The “Holy Ward of Christ of Cadouin” subsequently became the most famous relic of the Périgord and the abbey became a well-known pilgrimage centre with a lively influx. Ludwig the Saint, Richard the Lionheart, Charles V and many other high-ranking personalities are said to have paid their respects to the relic. Contrary to the Cistercian custom of distancing oneself from such a crowd of pilgrims, Cadouin became an important place of pilgrimage for eight centuries under their leadership, with great prestige and popularity, and consequently great wealth.

In 1933, a group of experts dated the “holy sweat cloth” to the 11th century on the basis of Arabic characters. The bishop of Périgeux then banned the pilgrimages. In 1982, other researchers came to the conclusion that only the border with kufic characters dates from the 11th century. The actual cloth could not be dated any closer.

Cadouin Abbey is located in Cadouin, a French municipality in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, the Dordogne department, the former province of Périgord, about 40 km west of Sarlat, about 40 km east of Bergerac and 5 km from the Dordogne river. Since 1998, the abbey is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Way of St James in France”. Cadouin was also only 50 kilometres or so east of the Via Lemovicensis, one of the four main routes of the Way of Saint James through France. The wars of the 13th and 14th centuries however brought about a dramatic collapse in the number of pilgrimages.
In 1791 the abbey, which by then had only four monks, was dissolved in the French Revolution. Its rich possessions were looted and its library was burnt in the village square.

The abbey church still stands.

The Abbey Church

Floor plan of the abbeyThe church building, completed in 1154, deviates from the Cistercian rules for church construction, as construction was already well advanced at the time of its annexation to Citeaux. Instead of a typical basilica, a three-aisled hall with a slightly raised central nave (pseudo basilica or stepped hall) and a crossing dome, as was common in Poitou and Limousin at that time, was built. The well-balanced proportions of the interior and the extensive renunciation of decorative elements come very close to the ideal of Cistercian churches.

Dimensions approx. (taken from plan):

  • Total length : 51,70 m
  • Longhouse width : 22,00 m
  • Length of transept : 25,20 m
  • Longhouse width: 19,70 m
  • width of the central nave: 7,60 m
  • Longhouse length: 30,70 m
  • Length of transept: 22,80 m
  • Transverse house width: 6.90 m
  • Choir width: 7,10 m

Abbey Cadouin the choir
Abbey Cadouin middle-nave


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