Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Abbeys & Monasteries in Normandy

Normandy is home to the World’s most well known and frequently visited medieval abbey, namely Mont Saint-Michel. Scattered around this vast northern region of France are many other equally spectacular abbeys. Given the age of some of these buildings it is perhaps not surprising that some of the abbeys, like those at Savigny and Saint-Evroult, are now in ruins. So evocative is the ruined Jumiéges Abbey that it has frequently been described as France’s most beautiful ruin.

Whether a ruin or a functioning religious centre, the abbeys of Normandy provide a fascinating way to explore the history of this region. These buildings have been at the heart of many historical events and political developments in this part of France. Many of the locations were chosen because there had been a sanctuary there since prehistory. They were obviously a crucial part of the introduction of Christianity during the centuries following the departure of the Romans. Many were then destroyed by the Vikings towards the end of the 9th century. During the second millennium AD, these religious communities became important centres of learning. The Abbots from many of these abbeys went on to become important religious who played significant roles in the affairs of the church and the state.

Above all, these beautiful buildings – and their gardens, in whatever state of preservation they are in today, show what religious architecture and art was like in the Medieval periods they represent. Amongst the ruins of Jumiéges is an exquisite, solitary Carolingian carving of a bird, while majestic, curved Romanesque vaults can be found throughout the region. The abbey at Montvilliers has been totally restored and is now a state-of-the-art museum exploring all aspects of the history of abbeys in Normandy. Other abbeys, Valmont and Soligny-la-Trappe for example, are still home to functioning religious communities. Today, they offer visitors an insight into monastic life.

Map of Abbeys & Monasteries in Normandy

Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec

The abbey was founded in 1034 by Helloin, knight of Count Gilbert de Brionne. The monastic buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt many time, owing to natural disasters, the 100 Year’s War, the Wars of Religion, the French Revolution and more recently WWII. Despite this the monastic community still survives today, having raised a Pope, three archbishops of Canterbury and numerous bishops. The abbey church and the park are freely accessible, but guided tours are provided to the church, cloister and grand matins staircase (plan ahead for these).


Founded as a monastery for women by Mathilda of Flanders following her marriage to William, Duke of Normandy. And it was here that Mathilda was laid to rest: her tomb can be seen in the choir. The abbey church was built in a typical Romanesque style and dedicated to the Trinity. In the ceiling of the apse is a restored but spectacular 18th century fresco that depicts the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The original spires were destroyed in the ‘Hundred Years War’, and replaced in the 18th century, otherwise much of the church is original.


Founded by William the Conqueror in 1059 as a monastery for men following his marriage to Mathilda of Flanders. The Gothic abbey church is dedicated to Saint-Etienne, and has the tomb of the Duke of Normandy in the church’s choir. Although much of the 11th century church is original, the monastic buildings were destroyed in the 16th century and rebuilt in the 18th century. Today these buildings are used for the Hôtel de Ville. Daily guided tours of the Abbey are provided free of charge.

Abbey of Saint Wandrille

Also known as Fontenelle Abbey, the Abbey of Saint-Wandrille is a functioning monastic community, and one with a long and distinguished history. The Benedictine abbey was founded in 649 by Wandrille. Forty monks from Saint-Wandrille, including Wandrille himself have been sanctified. The monastic buildings have been repeatedly destroyed, by the Vikings and a World War, natural causes and a revolution, but each time it has been reconstructed. The ruins and the church are open to the public, guided tours include other parts of the abbey.

Bernay Abbey

Founded in around 1013 by William the Conqueror’s grandmother, Judith of Brittany, Bernay’s abbey is the oldest surviving Romanesque abbey in Normandy. Following a period of decline due to religious wars and peasant revolts, the abbey experienced a renaissance in the 17th century. This did not last long, by the start of the French Revolution there were only five monks. After the revolution the various buildings were used to house the town’s  various administrative offices, including a court and prison. The latter ceased in 1950. Today a town hall and a museum of fine arts occupy parts of the abbey.

Cerisy-la-Forêt Abbey

Cerisy-la-Forêt Abbey was founded by Saint Vigor around 510. Although the Norman invasions of 9th century resulted in much destruction, the abbey began to prosper in the 11th century as a result of its influence over nearby abbeys. The 11th century saw a significant rebuilding. During the Hundred Years’ War the abbey was fortified and temporarily under English control. As a result of protestant seizure and fire, the abbey began to lose its influence and the buildings started to decay. It faced further dismantling during the French Revolution, with almost all of its buildings destroyed. Only the church and abbot’s chapel remain. The church is considered one of the finest Romanesque churches in Normandy. Displays in the Abbot’s Chapel recount the history of the abbey.

Hambye Abbey

The abbey was founded in 1145 by Guillaume Painel, the lord of Hambye, with a community of reformed Benedictine monks. It takes about 100 years to build the monastery by which time it started to exert influence throughout Normandy, Brittany and England. The community was all but decimated during 100 Year’s War, and by 1780 the abbey was abandoned and used a source of stone. It was not until the mid 20th century that restoration and conservation work took place, making the historic site a popular attraction.

Jumièges Abbey

These picturesque ruins have been described by many as the most beautiful ruins in France. Although founded in 654 by Saint Philbert, the ruins that we see today are the remains of successive abbeys built, destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries since, such was the importance of this religious centre. The abbey was burned by Norse Vikings as they conquered Normandy between 841 and 940 AD, then rebuilt and consecrated in 1067 in the presence of William the Conqueror

La Lucerne Abbey

Founded in the 12th century, Lucerne Abbey is one of the oldest Norman Premonstratensian abbeys. Although the site has benefited from extensive restoration projects in the 15th , 17th and 20th centuries, the original Romanesque and Gothic character has been largely maintained. Visitors are able to follow a set path to discover the highlights of the religious complex including the abbey church and its cloister, the Anglo-Norman tower and the dovecot. Guided tours are also offered by members of the monastic community.

Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

Mont Saint Michel is an island village with a Benedictine abbey unlike any other. According to legend, in 708 Saint Michael told the Bishop of nearby Avranches to build a monastery, much of which was built between the 10th & 15th centuries. Medieval builders were constrained by the natural pyramidal shape of the granite outcrop, so they created an abbey in three stories, known as La Merveille. At the very top is the abbey church and cloisters, made possible by a series of underlying crypts and buttresses

Mortemer Abbey

This early 12th century abbey was a give to the Cistercian community in Normandy from Henry I, King of England and the fourth son of William the Conqueror. Legend has it that Henry forced his daughter to stay here for five years. Following her death in Rouen, her ghost is said to visit the ruins of the abbey, now known as the most haunted abbey in France. Very little remains of the 12th century buildings, but those of the 17th century are in good preservation and guided tours are on offer.