History of Chaalis Abbey

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Chaalis made its first appearance in history in the 8th century (709) as a simple windmill "Cadolaicus" perhaps a place name of Celtic origin - which was to become "Chaalis".

The Royal Abbey

Louis VI founded the Cistercian monastery of Chaalis on 10th January 1137 in memory of Charles the Good, Count of Flanders who had been massacred at Bruges.

This abbey's church was consecrated in 1219 by the illustrious brother Guerin, then Bishop of Beauvais. Almost immediately after its foundation, the abbey became incontestably renowned largely due to the quality of its priors or abbots. It was certainly during the 14th century, however, that the monastery celebrated the period of its greatest splendour. The scrivener, Jean de Montreuil wrote "The Abbey of Chaalis is a kind of earthly paradise inhabited by saints. It is surrounded by fountains, streams and small torrents, whose clear waters murmur softly as they flow. There are ten great ponds, very profitable, filled with an infinite number of fishes, which have such an exquisite flavour that I do not believe I have ever eaten better. I admire the beautiful forest that nourishes a quantity of wild boars, stags, hares and rabbits which emerge constantly from their lairs and burrows in great numbers.The abbey was surrounded by ditches and walls. The church was approached via a portico, and the author declares that the interior, with its 25 chapels, surpasses all those he had seen elsewhere, in beauty and brightness. The refectory, almost 55 meters long, occupies a whole wing of the cloister. The magnificent guest houses lodge visitors from the outside world. As for the abbot's house, he said that if he described it, he would seem to be evoking the palace of some prince of royal blood. The place is so conducive to study that it is easy to believe the muses have chosen to reside there and have often held their assemblies at Chaalis."

Commendam and the Renaissance

The rose garden, the abbot's hotel and chapel decorated with frescoes of Francesco Primaticcio.
Like most abbeys, Chaalis was placed in commendam. This means that the king conferred the abbotship on an outsider, who was entitled to collect his share of the abbey revenue, since this income was divided between the monks, where it paid for their upkeep (the monastery share), and the abbot. In 1541, the king gave the post of commendatory abbot to his cousin Hippolyte d'Este "Cardinal of Ferrara" who spent most of his time at the royal court of Fontainebleau. The prelate, with his love of luxury, was one of those who contributed to the flowering of Renaissance Art in France. He reaped the benefits from the surplus of the abbey revenue, and this enabled him to undertake some important renovation work in the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, for which he had already shown a taste in the building of his famous "Villa d'Este" in Tivoli. He had the abbot's chapel decorated with frescoes of Francesco Primaticcio.

These frescoes were restored during the 19th century. Behind the abbot's mansion, modernised in its turn, lay the former monks' cemetery. This was embellished in the manner of an Italian garden, and given a monumental portal bearing the Cardinal's arms, set in the middle of a crenellated wall attributed to Serlio. This part is today a rose garden. Inside the monastery enclosure, the park has been redesigned, and a view created by the digging of a grand canal, fed by the river "Launette". At the head of this canal is an ornamental pond, shaped like a half-moon.

The 18th and the 19th Century

This part of the abbey grounds calls to mind the gardens of the "Villa d'Este" in Tivoli.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the abbey was in poor condition. Its upkeep had been neglected, and it was in urgent need of repair. This provided the opportunity to modernise the building. In 1730, the abbey was given in commendam to a prince of the blood, Louis de Bourbon, Count of Clermont. In 1736, the plans were entrusted to the architect Jean Aubert who, after constructing the beautiful hôtel Biron in Paris, had just finished the great stables at Chantilly for the Duke, the abbot's brother. In June 1739, these plans were approved and the destruction of the gothic cloister began. At the same time, the interior renovation of the abbey church was going on, and the brothers Slodtz were entrusted with stalls and sculptures. In place of the former cloister, which was square shaped, an enormous rectangular one had been planned but only the north-facing building was built. After the revolution, the abbey was sold as a national asset, the work of art were put up for auction, the church was treated as a quarry.

Madame de Vatry

In 1850 she bought Chaalis and decided to transform the former abbey into a permanent castel. Madame de Vatry was well received in fashionable society, and was friendly with princes of the house of Orleans, especially the Duke of Chartres, the Prince of Joinville and the Duke of Aumale who were her neighbours at Chantilly. Madame de Vatry entrusted to the architect Corroyer, disciple of Viollet-le-Duc, the restoration of the Abbey Chapel. After the death of the Baronne de Vatry, Chaalis passed to her nephew Hainguerlot, then to his widow who married Prince Murat.

Madame Jacquemart-André

In 1902, the estate was put up for sale, and Madame Jacquemart-André bought it, with all its outbuildings. She had known Chaalis in her youth, in Mme de Vatry's time.
Nélie Jacquemart, born in 1841 into a modest family, was the widow of Edouard André, a very rich member of the protestant banking elite and a great collector of works of art. She had met him in her role of society portrait painter; she painted the banker in 1874 and then married him in 1881. After the death of her husband in 1894, Madame Jacquemart-André continued to show a passionate interest in this collection, but soon the hotel on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris was full. When she learned the château de Chaalis was for sale, she did not hesitate to buy it, after a long travel through India. She was free to accumulate furniture and works of art of all kinds, to travel a lot and brought back whole cargoes of works of art. Madame Jacquemart-André died in 1912, after making a will bequeathing her Parisian hôtel and all the collections housed there, and also the Chaalis estate with all its outbuildings and its collections, to the INSTITUT DE FRANCE. She was buried in the former chapel at Chaalis, where she had arranged many of the sculptures she loved.

Rose garden



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