Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Abbey of
SAINT-BENOÎT-SUR-LOIRE, ABBEY OF
The Abbey of Saint-Benoît-Sur-Loire is under the Benedictines of the Congregation of Subiaco, in the Diocese of Orléans, central France; also called Fleury (Roman Floriacum ). At the point of the bend in the Loire River, the place was probably a Druid shrine. A monastic foundation (c. 650), perhaps a mission, became a pilgrimage shrine under Abbot Mummulus with the translation of relics of St. Benedict from Monte Cassino (672–674). The debatable authenticity of the relics, now under study, does not lessen their importance in the history of the abbey which gave up the patronage of St. Peter for that of St. Benedict while the land came to be called Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire. The abbey then became one of the most powerful in the Middle Ages, reaching a peak between the 10th and the 13th centuries, with learned abbots, such as theodulf of orlÉans (d. 826) and abbo (d. 1004), with hugh (d. 1120), and with a scriptorium of scribes that gave it one of the richest libraries in Christendom (Latin classics, Fathers of the Church, several unique manuscripts of St. Augustine's sermons). Most of the library was lost when Huguenots plundered the abbey in 1562. Fleury became a center of the Cluniac reform after 930, its influence extending to England, thanks to St. oswald of york (d. 992), a monk of Fleury. After 1072 the abbots, who supported the Capetians, claimed primacy among abbots of Gaul. Gauzlin, son of Hugh Capet, became abbot in 1005, and Philip I was buried there in 1108. The abbey slowly declined during the Hundred Years' War and became commendatory in 1485. In 1627 Richelieu, commendatory abbot, introduced the maurist reform. Suppressed in 1790 by the French Revolution, the monastery was demolished and the church turned to parish use. In 1865 Bishop F. dupanloup of Orleans gave the parish and the relics of St. Benedict to monks of Pierre-Qui-Vire (founded in 1850 in the Diocese of Sons). But French law exiled religious in 1900, and it was only in 1944 that the abbot of Pierre-Qui-Vire, where monks had returned in 1922, could send a community to restore Fleury. Today 50 Benedictines lead a contemplative life in new and unfinished buildings and care for a parish of 1,500 souls.
Abbot Gauzelin (1005–30) began the era of building by raising "a tower to serve as a model for all Gaul." The 296.5-foot Basilica of St. Benedict, one of the largest Romanesque churches, and best lighted, has unusual harmony. The eye is immediately drawn to the choir where the main altar is placed on a pavement of antique marble between two rows of five columns. The 15th-century stalls, where the monks chant their office, have just been returned to their old place at the corner of the transept. The Romanesque nave, with a Gothic vault completed in 1218, makes a monumental porch for Gauzelin's tower, which it adjoins. Under the apse is the half-circle crypt, a forest of cylindrical supports around a central pillar where the relics of St. Benedict repose.
Bibliography: j. n. m. rocher, Histoire de l'abbaye royale de Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (Orléans 1865). h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 5.2:1709–60. m. aubert in Congrès archéologique de France 93, (Orléans 1930) 569–656. g. chenesseau, L'Abbaye de Fleury à Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (Paris 1931). a. vidier, L'Historiographie à St.-Benoît-sur-Loire et les miracles de St. Benoît (Paris 1964). l. cottineau, Répertoire topobibliographique des abbayes et prieurés, 2 v. (Mâcon 1935–39) 2:2610–13. o. l. kapsner, A Benedictine Bibliography: An Author-Subject Union List, 2 v. (Collegeville, Minn. 1962) 2:254–257.