A major restoration project is underway at Abbaye de La Sauve-Majeure.
The plaza in front of Abbaye de La Sauve-Majeure contains majestic old trees and sweeping views.
Written and photographed by Mimi Beck Knudsen
In a meadow dotted with majestic trees stands the ruins of Abbaye de La Sauve-Majeure. That this vast Benedictine abbey from the 12th century is standing at all is kind of remarkable.
Abbaye de La Sauve-Majeure is named for the big forest — Silva Major — which dominated the surrounding landscape at the time of its construction. The abbey was a powerful priory in its heyday, but was reduced to a “grandiose ruin” and stone quarry following the French Revolution, according to the La Sauve website. The abbey served as a teacher training college until it was obtained by the state in 1960. In 1998 it became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site under the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
We arrive in La Sauve shortly after 10 a.m. on a weekday, so we have the abbey practically to ourselves. We purchase our tickets (6 euros) in the gift shop, and receive sturdy spiral-bound guides in English. We are free to explore and take photos at our leisure.
Abbaye de La Sauve-Majeure is an open-air landmark, so keep an eye on the weather forecast when planning a visit. There are just a few stairs, and the site can be enjoyed by those with limited mobility. Set upon 3 hectares, there’s plenty of space on the grounds for children to run around.
The church was built in the shape of a Latin Cross. We enter through the nave and find six consecration medallions. There originally were a dozen such stone circles, each featuring an apostle. The medallions were installed in commemoration of the completion of the church in 1231. As we wander through the ruins, we marvel at the various vaults and pillars topped with biblical scenes carved in stone.
We aren’t able to get a close look at portions of the monastic buildings, cloister and bell tower due to renovation work, but watching the artisans toil atop the network of scaffolding is fascinating in itself.
After we have explored the ruins, we check out Musée Lapidaire — the stone museum. If we had more time, we would also visit the Maison des vins de l’Entre-deux-Mers for a bit of wine-growing knowledge and une dégustation, but the next leg of our journey along piste cyclable Roger Lapébie awaits.
Roger Lapébie was the winner of the 1937 Tour de France. The smooth paved path named in his honor runs along a former railway line, passing through vineyards and forests. A notable stop along the route is Créon — well-known among cyclists for the burgers served up at La Barakavelo — our last stop before turning homeward.