Senanque     Pearl in the Alpilles           

The Abbaye de Sénanque is such a place in France that I always want to go when I'm in the area. I've been there several times but I never get tired of it.


The combination of the rugged landscape, the dry nature, the lavender and the Romanesque architecture makes me happy every time. The road to the monastery is very nice. From Gordes you have the most beautiful view of the abbey but I find the road (D4 and then D177) from Venasque actually nicer. Here you drive through a nice narrow gap and that way you get the feeling that you are going to a hidden place and that makes it extra special.

In its remote secret valley of lavender fields, the medieval Cistercian Abbey of Sénanque is one of the most instantly recognisable icons of Provence. By the Middle Ages there were over 700 Cistercian monasteries across Europe, always in remote spots.

"les trois soeurs provençales"

The Abbaye de Sénanque in the Provence is a Romanesque Cistercian monastery surrounded by nature. The colors and the scent of the flowers, the silhouette of the mountains with the monastery in the background it looks like you are walking in a postcard. Especially when it is not very busy, for example early in the morning, it is a wonderful experience to walk to the monastery. Sénanque is one of only three early Cistercian abbeys in the Provence, the others being  Le Thoronet Abbey and Silvacane Abbey. They're sometimes called the "three provençal sisters".

Cistercian monastery and it's history

That is no coincidence and it is even at the basis of order that was established in the eleventh century. The order was a reaction to the Benedictine monasteries that, due to their success, focused less and less on their spiritual duties. The Cistercians reject all luxury and prosperity and live in solitude as much as possible. So, the idea is, you live a life that is most similar to that of Jesus. 

The Cistercian monasteries that were founded in the course of the twelfth century are all built on so-called "wild grounds"; a remote place and preferably on land where agriculture is not easy. This simple and hard way of life can also be found in the architecture of the monasteries. The churches and buildings of the Cistercians have almost no decorations but only clear and simple forms that together with the natural environment almost always create a unique atmosphere. They are therefore always fascinating places. In Burgundy, for example, lies Fontenay, which is also beautiful in nature.

Moved past 

The abbey was founded in 1148 as a daughter monastery of the abbey of Mazan (Haut-Vivarais). After a good water supply was provided by building dikes and canals, the monks had a lot of agricultural income. From the money they earned, the construction of the church could be financed. This was built between 1160 and 1180

The history of the monastery is quite turbulent with success, setback, greed, betrayal and murder and fire. These days we would turn it into a reality soap!

At the beginning of the twelfth century, Cistercian monks from Mazan settled here, a nice town by the way, and that proves to be a great success. The strict rules of life inspire many believers who join or make a gift. The monastery is growing rapidly and is home to monks and lay brothers who take care of agriculture. Around 1250, Sénanque is large enough to found a second monastery, the Vivarais

Good time

Continued donations from local lords expanded the abbey's domains and attracted a continuous stream of new recruits. The abbey reached its high point in the 13th and early 14th centuries, when it owned four mills and large sections of land as far as Arles and Marseilles. By the 15th century, however, the abbey began to decline and fall into corruption, resulting in mismanagment of assets and a fall in recruitment.

Reform came in 1475 with a new abbot, John Casaletti from the University of Avignon, who enforced the Strict Observance of the Rule. Soon new recruits to the monastic life began to arrive again at Sénanque Abbey. His successor, Francois d'Estaing (1509-29) was the first of the commendatory abbots, all of whom carried out their duties (unlike many elsewhere). Abbot Francois, in fact, became known as the "father of the poor" by caring for plague victims.

However, the wealth accumulated by success is a problem for Cistercians. Luxury is contrary to the strict rules of the order and that was precisely the reason to establish order. However, the blood still creeps where it cannot go and the residents of the monastery fall into a decadent life every now and then.


Things went wrong in the sixteenth century. The religious tension could be cut all over Western Europe and things are also going strong in France. Catholics and Protestants regularly smash each other in the brains and Sénanque did not escape this violence either. In 1554, the Waldenses plundered the monastery, destroying everything thoroughly and hanging the clergy. by the heretics and several monastic buildings were destroyed and burned. The abbey would not survive this terrible battle.

The monastery was never recovered from this massacre. There will be monks living in the abbey again, but it will never be that busy again. At the end of the 17th century, Sénanque had no more than two religious. The last monk of Sénanque died in 1780. The French revolutionaries seized the abbey and sold it as state property. The abbey buildings then served as a farm. They happened to be in the hands of an honorable buyer who prevented destruction.

At the end of the eighteenth century, only two brothers were living when the French Revolution broke out. The revolutionaries nationalize all ecclesiastical property and Sénanque is sold to the highest of both. Fortunately, the complex comes into the hands of someone who wants to preserve everything 

Halfway through the second half of the nineteenth century the monks return and a new wing is even being built. But the future of the building does not lie in the religious and that becomes painfully clear when the five remaining monks leave in 1969. They can no longer maintain the complex. A tenant is found who turns it into a cultural center. The building is being refurbished, the garden is being tackled and concerts are being given. Around the winter of 1986/87 Crossbow is filmed here.

Finally, in 1988, six Cistercian monks left Lérins to reestablish the monastic life at Sénanque Abbey. They remain there today, following the medieval cycle of prayer, silence, study and work. The monastic way of life and upkeep of the buildings is financed by the cultivation of lavender and honey, donations, entrance fees and sales in the gift shop


Three episodes of the TV series of William Tell were shot here

Senanque is an important location. It has been in three episodes: 15 Possesed, 23 Handmaiden and 24 Rebirth

Established in 1148, the Abbey's fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, being at times abandoned and even used as a farmstead storage facility for livestock and crops. After Crossbow (1986) around 1988 the monks moved again  into Senanque and it has been a working monastery since that time. Tours are given, but because Cistercians are a silent, cloistered order, visitors are not allowed to wander on their own throughout the facility as the monks live, work, worship and pray. Today's monks have a modern residence, but in the Middle Ages, this is where as many as 30 monks slept. The dormitory was partitioned so each monk's bed had a bit of privacy. The door at the far end led to stone steps down into the church. Since the monks gathered 7 times during the day and night to sing the hours, it was important for them to have easy access to the church. The stairway in the foreground leads to the cloister.When not working or worshiping, the monks spent time here in the cloister in meditation and prayer. The 'warming room' and the chapter house open into the cloister.


The start of episode 15 (at an unknown location)

This unknown place you can see below is the beginning of ep. 15 Possessed. Scene: Stefan seems to be confused after he fell off a mountain while he tried to save Eleanor (previous episode 12 The Pass). In Episode Possessed, Eleanor succeeded in locating her father and wanted to get him out of this bad institute for madmen. 

 Below you see the scene: Stefan is found lost and is taken away to the 'madhouse' by soldiers.

This scenes are not shot at Senanque. We don't know where it is.



Episode Possesed. 'A gloomy place'

This episode is intense, the building is beautiful but also cold. It feels contradictory. Crossbow succeeded in filming psychiatry of the Middle Ages. The lack of medical and psychiatric knowledge during the Middle Ages led to imprisonment, mistreatment, wrong treatment and poverty. 

The scenes of Senanque were all shot during the winter season.

Although this episode has good scenes, I clearly prefer the other episodes with Senanque. Scenes such as the Princess's cell and the Emperor's room plus the beautiful evening scene: Gessler and his men walking with torches through the snow-covered gardens of Senanque. Nice scene! Senanque is a beautiful place in all seasons!


Stefan's arrival

Stefan is taken to this gloomy place. Tell managed to get in (in disguise) and managed to get in contact with Stefan. Stefan seems back himself again. But Tell must be wary... 

1986/78    They're walking on the right wing (then you have to pass the right arcades and you will see the alley)   around 2917



1986/87                                                                                                           I guess around 2017



The place seen from the outside, you can recognize it by the windows.


Most scenes are shot in this place. Here they closed the round upper window, perhaps there was too much back lighting for the camera. Later (in the same episode) the window is not covered (right picture).


The Salle where most of the scenes took place, just before the renovation


  Rosanne to Stefan: "These are not the eyes of a madman."



Photos of the cast and the set



                              1986                                                                                                                    2017




The cages hung in 7 and 8


Location: the courtyard of Senanque


Eleanor arrives in Senanque, but can she get her father out? Below some photos of the courtyard. 



The recognition

Stefan is happy to see her                                                 Eleanor is caught. She's waiting for the best time for a resistance..



Aula Capituli Senanque

The Chapter room / Salle de Capitre. This room is attached to the courtyard.

Gessler and Lady Rosanne




Lady Rosanne is a girl who certainly can't be forced. Gessler is pushing her over the edge and asks for her hand and is after her land.

Gessler noticed she is making progress with her therapy but she is not fond off Gessler. She finally spits Gessler in his face.

When Gessler hears about the good results of the Master of Mercy, he takes him to Lady Rosanne. But the master of mercy is not the one he thinks he is.......

                          2015                                             1986  Lady Rosanne is driven to the left corner of the room.     




The chapter room is the room where the monastic community meets daily around its Abbot, to listen to a chapter of the Rules of St. Benedict. This is the only room where it is allowed to speak. It is here that the monks make the decisions concerning the community and that takes the making of clothes, the monastic professions or the election of the Abbot.

The monks sit on the stands. The Abbot, placed in the center, faces a representation, figure of the demon, carved in the cloister (vignette). What characterizes this room is the subtlety of its acoustics: the word can be heard effortlessly, thanks in particular to the six stone ribs of the ridge vault.



                                                                         1986                                                                                                       2015                                                                                         



                                                      1986                                                                                    2016                                                                      


The salle du chapitre (chapter-house), where the monks came as close as it was possible for a Cistercian to get to socialising, was the only place where talking was permitted. On a pillar opposite the door, a tarasque (sculpted devil), pictured, keeps an eye on the proceedings. Perhaps it's there to remind the praying monks that as they leave this room, the Devil and worldly temptation are always waiting. (see the sculpture of the Devil, photo right below, while walking out of the Chapture room).


The revelation of the master of Mercy.

A moment later in the Dome of Senanque...

                              In some scenes I get the feeling of hopeless sorrow      Lady Rosanne always feels something is right or wrong and unfortunately she makes a mistake...


                                                                                                           Rosanne reveals Tell                       I think the right guard is also in 'Forbidden Land' and haunted Tell.



The dome of Senanque


Scene: Moment of Judgment

Monument: On the right, the tomb and the funerary monument of Geoffroy de Venasque, benefactor of Sénanque.

The only non-Cistercian element of the church is the fine Gothic tomb of Lord Geoffroy of Venasque, dating from the 13th century. He would have paid a high price for such an enviable resting place, next to the high altar in a devoutly austere community.


Rosanne's awareness and regret




The resistence

in episode 15 Possessed




Outside of Senanque

We see a beautiful scene in the snow of the group that departs from Senanque

                 January 1986                                                               December 2017                                           They start walking in front of Senanque


                                                  We see the scene from the departure of the goup of episode Possesed

But in episode Handmaiden is also filmed on this spot. Most of Handmaiden is recorded at Boulbon castle and inside Senanque. The last scene Matthew and Tell ride away into the fields together. 

Fact: The indoor scenes were done here (Handmaiden) and because Boulbon castle was not in de snow during the shooting, I recognized the Senanque valley for this outdoor scene. That surprised me enormously because Matthew had no part in the indoor scenes on Senanque as far as I know and so was brought there especially for this short ride?


                        Below: this is not the end of Possessed, but suddenly Mathew or a stand-in showed up at Senanque. It's the end shot of |Handmaiden in 'The Emperor wants Tell free' and Matthew and Tell riding away. And now i'm lookiing at this all the penny's fall...the horse maathew rde on in the end scene of handmaiden is the horse tell enters senanque in possesed


The higher snowy fields

In between Gessler will hang three innocent people but help is coming!

This field lies higher than Senanque. The field is finally found by mr. Petit, it has hardly landmarks but he succeeded. It happened before that they moved about 20- 30 km. further.


And there goes Gessler...


Found and drawn by C. Petit.

The field is probably in this circle, not just a walk from Senanque, like they made it look like.


Episode 23 Handmaiden in Senanque

                           1986                                                              2015                                                                           1986                               


The Maria statue looks the same but seems to have nowadays a luminous coating or something. It almost glows!



Episode 23 Handmaiden - West side of the Dome

The cell of the Princess and also the place Horst gets Tell in 'Possessed.' It's situated in the north west side of the Dome of Senanque


.                                                                     1986       is in a corner of the church                                            2015                                                           



Salle Chauffoir de Senanque

A double role for this Salle Chauffoir

Translated, the name is: 'Room of the heater.' This small vaulted room leans on four vaults of edges falling in the center on a robust column whose capital is adorned with leaves of water and flowers of lilies. A beautiful fireplace, conical, allows to burn trunks placed vertically. The room, originally, had two chimneys as evidenced by the two skylights visible from the outside. As the name suggests, it is the only heated room in the monastery outside the kitchen. I can imagine how cold these monks must have had it. It was already quite cold during the summer. In Crossbow you can see the steaming breath of the princess's while she speaks to her maid. It's like being ourside! It was in this room that the monks came to work. It served as a scriptorium, a place where Biblical manuscripts were copied and illustrated.

In episode 15 'Possessed' a kind of Torture camber and in episode 24 'Handmaiden' one of the seats of Emperor

                 1986  the huge pillar and heater                                         2015                                    And Gessler's room for 5 minutes as well      


2016          Tell in disguise to see Stefan. The wall behind the non is behind the pillar (left photo).      1986






And these scenes are shot over here (episode 23 'Handmaiden')



Filmed in the Dome of the abbey of Senanque (his seat is changed from Palais du Papes episodes Citadel and Princess to the Dome and Salle Chauffoir of abbaye de Senanque (Handmaiden). Below Gessler poisoned the wine of the emperor. The emperor survived but is weak now so Gessler can do what he wants.

1986                                                                          1986                                                                          2015


Below: The window Horst and Gessler look at each other (after poisoning the Emperor's wine) is not shot at the central Dome place where the whole scene took place (right above), but a smaller room in Senanque with almost the same window..why? I don't know..

This round beautiful window is not often in sight. But the lower two windows as lot. Perhaps this is bacause the cages hung low and this room is very tall!

This short shot Horst is put just in front of the small crack.                     

Now that I look closely at this photo, I see that there was already friction in the wall, above the round window.                                                                         



On the right, the tomb and the funerary monument of Geoffroy de Venasque, benefactor of Sénanque.           

1986                                                                          2016                                                                           



The Stairs of the dome of Senanque

To compare:

                    Possessed                                                            Cell Princess episode Handmaiden                                          2015


I was impressed by the huge door and big key and the locks. The little but severe woman guide was locking all the doors carefully behind her (right above). So the monks could use the spaces that we just left.

Although it was May the rooms were very cold. Relatively narrow window because this was good to have small windows to be less distracted and to focus better on God.

The disadventage of this was the sun couldn't warm up the place.

After 30 years and a bunch of visitors, still the same stairs. 


I've been there in May and in July; it was nice cool inside, a little cold. No heater in those parts. During Crossbow it was midwinter, they wanted to finish before the winter, but the scenes that year took more time, so they had to shoot when the snow fell in. In that times the place was deserted, the monks left, but soon after Crossbow they returned. Now they are still living there.


1987                                                                                   2015     



North west wing of the Dome de Senanque


On the photo below you can clearly see the door with the stairs on the left.

This part was the cell of the princess Irena and the place where Tell (episode 'Possesed') wanted to escape but is stopped by Horst. 

The photo shows us 'shooting' spotsBehind the photgrapher's back of episodes! (1. The left door + wall: The cell of the Princess (scene: her maid visites and offers her to ask Tell and Matthew for help, everything is better than marrying Gessler).

2 Behind the photographer: The scene of the cages, this is the biggest place of the church. 

3. On or near the altar (abandonned at the time) is put a wooden board laid as a table for a scene with Gessler, who is having dinner with two women. Horst wanted to join them but is not welcome (episode Rebirth). You can see the three photos below. Horst came from the right hall and walked to the cross, close to where the table stood.

Lunch scene: (The photographer of the photo above stood behind Horst).


The Dome of Senanque

Location: Gessler's lunchtime and Horst is not invited.  

I think I understand this angle finally. It's taken with the dome in the back and unfortunatly there are hardly photos online taken from this possition. Right a rare photo!

                                                    1986                                                                       2016


Gessler and the two women having lunch in the Dome next to the three windows. You can see a part of the altar hidden behind Gessler.


If you take a good look you see the three windows close to the altar in the dark     And this scene of Handmaiden. The emperor seems poisoned by Gesseler



Courtyard in front of Salle Capitre

   1986        In front of the entrance of chapter room /salle capitre (left side) and right the courtyard of Senanque     2014               




Meanwile...mixed locations...

A soldier riding the snowy path next of Senanque                        Soldier riding out of Fort St. Andre Avignon          


Below the statue at Senanque (2014)

  This episode is a mix of locations in department Vaucluse (like the cell of the princess, seat of the Emperor in Senanque and Chartreuse Avignon).

For episode the 'Handmaiden,' most scenes are shot around Boulbon, with exception of the interior scenes (Emperor and Gessler in Senanque and Avignon).

It's remarkable that this episodes do have almost 10 episodes in between (episode 15 and 23!). So they probably have shot in a different order than the episode numbers telling us.


Above: a combination of Senanque and Sainte Andre Avignon.

Below Villeneuve les Avignon (Four Horsemen, Citadel, Princess and Handmaiden and rebirth interiors are changed in Senanque)


'The tower scenes' combined with Villeneuve Les Avignon and Fort Saint Andre and later Senanque. See below.



Quote Will Lyman: "For three seasons, we shot from June until Christmas. We didn’t shoot in winter except for season one when we had to go back in January to finish 3 episodes around Senanque (Possessed, Rebirth and Handmaiden, I think.)  The area got a huge snowfall that month, and all of Europe got a severe cold snap".

What a beautiful view in the snow!

To Compare the 4 photos below

Below compare the field. This is the end of Handmaiden, filmed at chateau Boulbon and suddenly change to Senanque fields. Same time recorded as Episode Possessed in the snow.


                                                                                                      january 1986                                                                   december 2017


The arrival of the 'master of mercy' at the North of Senanque


                                 1986/87                                                                             2017



Below: West side of the notre dame de Senanque. Horst tells he needs new coffins. With one Eleanor went in to get her dad out.


                                                                     1986                                       2016   Gessler asks permission from Prince Ignatius to marry the Princess                        





Here below four photos of the courtyard in the earlier episodes. This below is St. Jean cloistre Villeneuve les Avignon!



The courtyard of Senanque

The Courtyardscenes are in the following episodes: The Four Horsemen, The Citadel, The princess in Cloistre St. Jean Villeneuve les Avignon (these pillars are bigger and the courtyard seems smaller) and in episode Handmaiden + Rebirth are the Scenes with Gessler and Prince Ignatius in the Courtyard of Senanque.

                            1986                                                                             2015


Above and below: both sides of the archways of the courtyard of Senanque.

1987 Senanque covered with snow (like in episodes Possesed and Handmaiden)                2015                                           



          1986 The snowy torches scene, episode Handmaiden. The arrest of the handmaiden.      2017 it doesn't snow often         


And what it looks like in the summer (around 2015)


Same courtyard alley as the master of mercy enters. Right side is the salle de capitre (Gessler visits lady Rosanne) and behind Gessler Salle de chauffoir (the room with the fireplace)

1986                                                                                          2017             


Courtyard in the arrival of 'the master of mercy' (Tell) in episode 'Possesed'

1986                             In front of  Salle de Capitre                                 2016


The Chauffoir room is the same room for all those shots in different angles. It's the seat of the Emperor in (ep 23) and Gessler's room (ep 24).

 Gessler asks the Emperor for extra men to find Tell.  In this room Gessler gets a preach from the Princess after asking her hand to marriage.



The similarities of these shots in this room (above and below)

                                                                          1986                                                                                     2014                                                                     



                                                             Below the same room de Chauffoir for Episode 25. Gessler's place                     2014               


And this Chauffoir room again: in Episode 15 Torture room of Gessler to get confessions, in a gloomy psychiatric institution


 Photos  of room the Chauffoir around 2015

While entering this Chauffoir room the stairs have a fence now.




Extra photos and information about Senanque  



The visit was very impressing. We've been on a tour inside the monastary. We went there three times. We went back to view the lavender fields and we were nearby just to have a view on this beautiful peaceful valley and it's abbaye. The guided tour is French.  While there are rules to enter, you can read them clearly; for me it was a shock so many tourists behaved so loud and respectlessly while visiting.

Like walking through the lavenderfield, picking it and taking it with them, making over 50 selfies in all kind of different poses. While doing that they were yelling and laughing loudly. Only focussed on themselves, never seen this before on sucha big scale.  I hope these people learn to pay respect for the place and the monks who still live here in silence. Please behave respectful to them and other people.


Entering this valley feels magical.



Senanque has to deal with forces of the nature. Flood september 2017



Summertime. Lavender in bloom until half Juli



Photos taken from above



In the mist mysterious but absolute still very pretty.




Different rooms attached to the courtyard


The room below closed for restauration 2014                                                           Bibliotheca                  



The courtyard 




It's possible to go in retrait in a group


They might look the same but in fact this are two different places of the courtyard (the panorama photo above and below)


  Sénanque was established on the Sénancole river in 1148 and took a century to build. The groups are likely to be fairly full, as there aren't many tours (these have to fit around the monks' intensive prayer schedule of seven sessions a day).  You are advised to make a booking well ahead, either online, by mail, email or telephone on the cumbersome - and French language-only - page of the abbey's website. The abbey strives to preserve the peace and privacy of its monks (who stay discreetly out of sight) and imposes a series of stern requirements. Visitors should come dressed appropriately: no shorts, low-cut T-shirts, singlets or skimpy cycling gear. Parents with young children are asked to stop them from running around and making too much noise. Note, too, that the visitors' toilets are in the gift shop and can only be accessed before or after the tour. Dogs must remain outside. The tour goes up and down steps at several points and isn't suitable for wheelchairs, though there are disabled parking spaces if you want to see the abbey from the outside. The abbey has no frescos or paintings that might be damaged by a flash, but it was still a pleasant surprise that photography is permitted. It's hard not to be impressed and moved by the atmosphere of this serene, mystical and very lovely building, despite the crowds. Five areas of the abbey are visited on the tour. The altar faces north instead of, as conventional, east because of the lie of the land.Senaque bell tower with lavender fields

Passing through the cloister at the heart of the abbey, you get a good close view of the squat bell-tower before seeing the chauffoir, or warming room / calefactory, the only heated space in the building, where manuscripts were copied.

Senanque devil

Here new Abbots were voted in - and anyone who won unanimously was barred for life for pridefully voting for himself, a lesson politicians might learn from.

We were worried that the abbey's spiritual aura would be let down by a loud and vulgar gift shop.

In the event, it was huge but with a very wide-ranging collection of books on different aspects of religion and spirituality, including such issues as gay marriage, as well as architecture and Provence itself. They were mostly in French, though there was a handful in English and other languages.

You can also buy rosaries and religious statues, CDs and various lavender products, herbs, honeys and so on made at the abbey and other monasteries. Some items may also be purchased online at the Abbaye de Sénanque website.


When to go:The Abbaye de Sénanque is closed to the public for a couple of weeks in early January. The lavender (which is actually lavandin, a hybrid, not true lavender) is in bloom in midsummer. The exact weeks vary from year to year depending on the climate.


The Cistercian order at the abbey flourished until the 16th century, getting wealthier and wealthier, in contradiction to the Benedictine rule of poverty. In 1544, the Vaudois heretics revolted and their first target was Sénanque. The monks were hanged and many of the buildings were destroyed.

The abbey struggled to recover for the next three centuries, changing hands several times during the historical upheavals of the period, such as the French Revolution. By 1989, the abbey was again an active monastery.

The Dormitory


The Monk's dormitory of Senanque Abbey is on the upper level of the north side, between the entry and the church, to enable them to shuttle there quickly for the constant prayer sessions. It was built as a continuation of the transept in the church. The space for each monk is marked out by colored paving stones on the dormitory floor. With a very high vaulted ceiling, it's unheated, enormous and echoing, to discourage chatting. Around 30 monks slept there on straw mattresses until they were allowed the relative luxury of individual cells. Steps lead down to the church which, remarkably, has no grandiose main entrance, in line with the Cistercians' emphasis on humility.


Marks on the stones

The brands of the stonemasons: on the stones, engraved signs and initials recall that the monks were helped in the construction by stonecutters who marked the blocks to be able to pay the piece. Several hundred of these brands are visible to Sénanque.



Motives of the Pillars


Here too, austerity is felt: the capitals of the columns, all different, are simply decorated with plant motifs. Cistercian architecture and art are typically simple and elegant. These leaf and nature motifs are the only decoration permitted in the monastery. No carved tympanums here; no stained glass windows of Biblical scenes or saints. Hear the words of St Bernard of Claivaux, founder of the order:

"What is the use of placing these ridiculous monsters, beautiful horrors, and horrible beauties under the eyes of the monk when he must read and meditate?...It then becomes more pleasant to read the marble than the manuscripts and one spends days contemplating these sculptures one after the other instead of meditating on the law of God."


The abbey church. The great apse of the transept, illuminated by three openings that converge towards the altar. This large apse is framed by two apsidioles (two chapels) of pure Romanesque style on each side. Each chapel was used for the celebration of private masses or low mass (for the repose of the soul, of a benefactor, for example).  The church is built in the shape of a Latin cross. No decoration should disturb the prayer and the recollection of the monks. Only light, the symbol of God, must modulate space. Here the choir monks occupied stalls while the lay brothers stood at the back of the church. The latter entered the building through the side doors. The church is aligned to the north, instead of the east, because of the limited width of the valley in which is sits. Like its sister abbey in Thoronet, the Senanque Abbey church has no main entrance door; the church was only for the monks and lay brothers, not the public.


Photos from the abbey

The photos

The Abbey of Sénanque was founded in 1148.

It is the fourth Cistercian abbey to be built in Provence, in Gordes, after Le Thoronet, Aiguebelle and Silvacane.

The abbey of Sénanque remains one of the purest examples of this primitive Romanesque architecture. 

Just a little movie fact: in Luberon, praised by Peter Mayle in “A Year in Provence” and beautifully filmed by Ridley Scott in “A Good Year” with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard.






Unfortunately a lot of rainfall can also cause a lot of inconvenience in a valley.




It is possible to go there individually or with a group in retreat. For hundreds of years the monastery has been in use by monks who wanted to devote their lives to God. Not uninterrupted, because during the religious wars and the French Revolution the monks were temporarily expelled from their beautiful spot in Provence. In the 13th and 14th centuries were the heyday of the monastery, it owned at that time many estates in the surrounding area. Since the 16th century, the occupation of the monastery was much smaller, barely a few dozen monks.


During a large part of the twentieth century, the monastery was also empty, until a small community returned in 1988 just (after Crossbow). The monks who now live in Sénanque grow lavender and keep bees for honey. You can buy their products in the store at the abbey. It is also possible to visit a part of the monastery, including the church, cloister and some of the old halls. The monks live according to a strict daily rhythm, starting at about 4 in the morning. As a visitor you can experience their services in the chapel or monastery church



The prettiest 

I think the Monastery of Sénanque is one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings and actually one of the most beautiful buildings in France. The building itself, and in particular the church, is not that big but has perfect proportions. In addition, the builders have used simple forms that we all know from our high school maths book. These have exactly the right size and are then perfectly stacked on top of each other. And that is exactly as the Romanesque architecture is intended. 

It is striking that decorations cannot be found. This austerity fits very well with the Cistercians because that order prescribes a life without luxury and pleasure. An exception to this is the cloister whose capitals are adorned. For the monks, this must have been pretty much the only form of entertainment, but it also meant getting up early, working hard, studying, and especially praying a lot. The food itself could not bring too much joy. Something you can hardly imagine in current French culture.


The plan






The start of the renovation

Last year, Senanque seemed to be in danger... there has been a major fundraising campaign. You can follow the restoration process on the Senanque website. Many original stones have been renewed since 2019, including the large round window. The cause of the destabilization was not immediately known in the beginning. Later it seemed the wall was counterbalanced by higher the natural terrain and they found an old photo image that a smaller outbuilding was removed long before the time of the crossbow, which as support  

for a moment, senanque seemed to be in danger ... There has been a major fundraising campaign and I believe things are now moving in the right direction. You can follow the restoration process on the Senanque website. Many original stones have been renewed since 2019, including the large window. The cause The cause of the destabilization was not immediately known in the beginning, it was discovered on old drawings that there was a small building against a wall, this turned out to be a very important support. So you can say that it was also not safe during crossbow. a smaller outbuilding was removed long before the time of crossbow, which was a support 

Last year the news was: Significant structural disorders threaten the building: this dramatic situation worries specialists who fear the loss of the church.





But then again serious danger, Abbaye closed!

If you care about this beautiful abbey, you can consider donating money. I visited this abbey three times, one time during the lavander season. Amazing! That's the reason of this purple background

I cannot believe that this abbey has become so unstable, but when I was there I saw cracks they fixed. And now I looked watched parts of the episode back, 
I see they were already there (during Crossbow). But the cracks became worse and suddenly the whole building was in danger!

The safeguarding project consists in the construction of buttresses that would make it possible to counter the church. Bending the bell tower dome would limit structural disorders. The installation of micropiles would strengthen the foundations of the abbey church.

Combined with a remeshing and stitching of cracks, a reconnection of the gabled walls to the drip walls, these techniques would save the church. 

This solution also has the advantage of preserving the harmony of the architectural ensemble. 

Collateral before the construction of the foothills/Collateral after the construction of the foothills

In the 19th century, the construction of a chapel served as a buttress.

When this building was destroyed in 1974, the east wall became free, without an abutment. This causes the building to shift.

The east aisle wall presents a serious stability problem that puts the entire building at risk of collapse.

 Historically, this wall was counterbalanced by the natural terrain:




On the wall you can see already the damage to the wall.


But since 2019 they discovered large cracks in the walls and there seemed real danger of collapse. 




If you like to visit Senanque and you wanna see it in purple colors, then make sure you visit it in Juni or maximal the first 2 weeks of July. After that they'll cut it off for products. There is a nice shop inside, where you can buy everything about Senanque! We have visited it 3 times, we were many times nearby and everytime it touched us again.


What to See at Senanque Abbey

(source of this information below: )

Like all Cisterican abbeys, Sénanque is lovely in its austere beauty. With no decoration to distract the monks per the instructions of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the harmonious proportions of its Romanesque architecture can be fully appreciated.

Over the crossing is a large octagonal dome supported on squinches with six decorative foils each, reflecting the vision in Revelation of four beasts with six wings. The capitals in the crossing are decorated with intriguing geometrical figures and symbols in low relief.

The main apse behind the altar is flanked by two smaller apsidoles on each side. Dimly illuminated by a single narrow window, these are used by individual monks to celebrate Mass.

Adjoining the church are the attractive 12th-century cloisters and monastic buildings including the refectory (housing an exhibit on the history of the Cistercian order), chapterhouse, warming room and dormitory (with an exhibit on the abbey's construction). These can all be visited on a guided tour.

The gift shop is large and excellent, offering a wide range of books on spirituality, Cistercian history and the region of Provence, as well as various products handmade by the monks.


The Abbey of Sénanque offers residential retreats to members of the public interested in a time of quiet meditation. Visitors can stay up to eight days for a modest charge of about €30 per day, during which they are invited to join with the Cistercian brothers at meals (taken in silence) and the services conducted throughout the day.

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