As any visitor to the Luberon Valley in Provence will tell you, beautiful photos of L’Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque are everywhere. For every postcard stand proudly exhibits stunning images of the abbey, taken in early summer when it is surrounded by its’ spectacular carpet of lavender.
Situated just outside the perched village of Gordes this mystical Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1148 under the Bishop of Cavillon.
Looking down from the narrow road on the approach from neighboring Gordes, L’Abbaye de Sénanque stands as an isolated shrine, dominating the small valley floor.
Throughout the centuries it has provided the shelter and livelihood for small group of devout men who have followed the rigid discipline of this religious order.
At its peak, in the 13th and 14th centuries, L’Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque operated 4 mills, 7 granges and owned large estates in Provence. Alongside all the toil of the land, once within the confines of the abbey cloisters, life became more serene, voices became hushed if seldom heard at all.
Following the French Revolution the abbey’s lands were nationalized, the last monk was expelled and Sénanque was sold to an individual. In 1858 a new Cistercian order returned but they too eventually departed and in 1908 L’Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque closed its doors, leaving the abbey bells silent for several decades.
However in 1998 a small group of Cistercian monks returned. They have remained there tending lavender and bees to earn a living. It is possible to tour the Abbey, a place where time seems to have stood still. Whilst learning its history one cannot but help become immersed in its tranquility. The scarcely changing values of a life spent in devotion and dedication to God transcend from every corner. It is not always easy to comprehend why some feel called to serve God this way.
Those that do so at L’Abbaye de Sénanque, within the gentle embrace of an enfold of the Luberon Valley, surrounded by lavender, fragrant pines and olive trees, must surely dwell in one of creation’s most special places.
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Location of L’Abbaye Notre Dame de Senaque