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Hidden treasure: The Capitular room of the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud

Built during the abbacy of Louise of Bourbon, the Capitular room was central to life in the monastery. It has retained its magnificent wall paintings depicting scenes from the passion as well as the sculpted decoration in its low vaults and its majestic doorway.

Built in the 16th century under the supervision of Abbesses Louise and Eléonore of Bourbon, the Capitular room played a central role in the organisation of monastery life. Sermons were held here every day and it was also where material and management matters were discussed, novices were admitted and abbesses were elected. Every week, the abbesses organised the “Chapter of guilt” here, in which nuns who had to publicly admit to their wrongs made their confessions. After the Chapter, they beat themselves and prayed the Mea Culpa.

The site was entered via a richly decorated doorway with interlaces, garlands and symbolic figures. On either side of the doorway are two double bays representing different saints. The architectural elegance of the room is highlighted by the semi-circular paintings created in around 1563 by Anjou artist Thomas Pot. They depict scenes of the passion of Christ in which portraits of the abbesses can also be identified. These later additions pay tribute to the women who played a key role in the life of the Abbey. When the Abbey was used as a prison, the capitular room served in turn as a storeroom then tribunal, with little concern for preserving the paintings. Considerable restoration work has been carried out to restore the room to its former glory.
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