The Silvacane Abbey stands proudly at La Roque-d’Anthéron in the Bouches-du-Rhône department. Founded in 1144, it is one of the three Cistercian Sisters of Provence, along with the Sénanque Abbey and the Thoronet Abbey, which bear witness to the great influence of the Cistercian Order in the region.
The Cistercian Sisters of Provence
In 1144, monks from the Morimond Abbey invested the Silvacane Abbey as soon as it joined the Cistercian Order, with the agreement of the Baux family. Thanks to their knowledge of agriculture and drainage, the monks carried out land reclamation work on the land called Silva Cana, which means “reed forest”, located between the Luberon and the Côtes mountain range. Donations and the protection granted by the Lords of Provence enabled the abbey to develop rapidly. In 1175, Bertrand des Baux had the abbey church built. He was finally buried there with his wife in the south aisle (the tomb is still visible). It was also during this period that the abbey was built. It was one of the first major monuments to use the technique of the pointed vault, which would then be integrated in other religious buildings in the region. The interior of the abbey is devoid of figurative representation, and the light underlines the simplicity of Cistercian architecture, the pure lines, and volumes. The colonnades of the cloister are soberly decorated with water leaves, typical of the Romanesque style. In 1188, the community of the Silvacane Abbey created a branch in Valsaintes which is the Abbey of Simiane, not far from Apt.
Unfortunately, from the end of the 13th century, an irreversible decline began for the Silvacane Abbey. Following a conflict, the place was invaded by the Benedictine monks of Montmajour, then came the great plague, the great frosts and the Hundred Years’ War. The advent of printing also affected the abbey, taking away the monks’ work as copyists.
The abbey was attached to the chapter of the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence in 1455 and became the parish church of La Roque-d’Anthéron. Degraded during the religious wars that broke out in the Kingdom of France and abandoned, it was then a declared national property during the Revolution. At that time, the monastery was divided into lots and became a farm.
In 1845, the State bought the church from Silvacane, and Revoil and Formigé the architects of the Historical Monuments, worked to save the monument. It was not until 1945 that the entire site was listed and acquired by the State. Between 1952 and 1988, excavations were carried out to determine the exact location of the monastic buildings, the enclosure wall and the monks’ hostelry. The Silvacane Abbey was finally restored and opened to the public.
The Silvacane Abbey, the Thoronet Abbey and the Sénanque Abbey were nicknamed “the three Cistercian sisters of Provence”. They all follow the rule of the Cistercian Order of Cîteaux, which advocates Christian poverty and a simple life of prayer and hard work. The Romanesque architecture of these monuments is bare and austere so as not to distract the monks during their meditation and work. Of these three abbeys, the Silvacane Abbey is the most recent, but also the only one not to have returned to a conventional activity.
Discovering monastic life
The life of Cistercian monks is governed by the Rule of St. Benedict. Their days are divided between the many moments of prayer and manual work (crafts, gardening, and work in the fields) or intellectual work. The time of rest does not exceed 7 hours, and the first office takes place most of the time at 4:30 am. Every morning, the monks go to the chapter house to read a chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict. Dinners are frugal and are held in silence. The monks communicate with each other by means of signs.
A cultural destination
Since 2008, the abbey has been managed by the commune and has become a place of culture. Throughout the year, numerous events take place: temporary exhibitions, concerts of classical music, sacred music, and jazz, as well as conferences, original meetings, etc. It is one of the venues for the Festival de La Roque-d’Anthéron which is an international piano festival, the Luberon String Quartet Festival, as well as the International Festival of Lyric Art in Aix-en-Provence. The pointed barrel vaults give the Silvacane Abbey unparalleled acoustics.
The abbey can also be rented by private individuals or companies for events such as weddings, family celebrations, meetings, or reception evenings.
Prepare your visit
The Silvacane Abbey can be visited all year round, but opening hours vary according to the season. The abbey is closed on December 25, January 1, and May 1.
Audio guides are available for hire at the reception desk. Guided tours are organized at certain times of the year or by reservation (8 people minimum).
Treasure hunts have been created so that children can discover the abbey, its history, and the medieval world in a fun and interactive way.
Address: 561 Rue de Provence, 13640 La Roque-d’Anthéron
Selection of monuments in Bouches-du-Rhône :