In the quiet village of Longues sur Mer is a beautiful Benedictine abbey dating from the 12th century. The Abbaye de Longues or Abbaye Saint-Marie is nestled on the road leading to Bayeux. Although it’s not far from the Omaha and Gold D-Day landing beaches it wasn’t bombed during the Battle of Normandy. It had however already fallen into decline some centuries before. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to explore and you can see how the abbey would have looked in its heyday.
The Abbey’s History
The abbey was founded in 1168 in the Calvados department of Normandy. The first monks here came from Hambye Abbey located some 70 kilometers away in La Manche department. Many of the the buildings date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The western facade of the Abbot’s House was re-done during the 18th century.
The abbey originally comprised the following building and structures. A gatehouse, coach house, barn, abbey church, cloister, chapter room, refectory, kitchen, scriptorium or library, infimary, lay quarters, abbot’s house, dovecot, farm buildings and various gardens. The cloister was in the centre with the other buildings accessible from it.
In line with many other Normandy abbeys, Longues sur Mer abbey fell into decline starting in 1526. Successive abbots didn’t invest in the abbey and by 1640 the nave of the church had fallen into ruin. As a result, the abbey eventually closed in 1782. Some of the stones were quarried and further decline continued until 1915 when it was designated as an historical monument.
An American, Charles Dewey, bought the abbey in 1932 and started the restoration process. In 1964 the abbey was sold to the French d’Angeljan family. The family have continued to restore the Longues sur Mer abbey and so in January 2006 it was classified as an historical monument.
Visiting Longues sur Mer Abbey
Thanks to the efforts of the current and previous owners, you can visit the abbey today. During visiting times the wooden doors of the ornate stone gatehouse are open. This impressive gatehouse dates from the 14th century. The owners often greet visitors and they speak English. I was fortunate to be met by Hannah, an American who was undertaking a summer internship at the abbey. We chatted as we walked over to the coach house which is immediately to the left of the gate house. I picked up a leaflet and Hannah gave me a laminated sheet about the abbey. English and French versions are available.
You can then walk round the abbey at your own pace following the numbered arrows. However, take some time to look at the information boards and photos in the coach house. They give more information about how the abbey used to look and the history of the buildings you’re about to discover.
If you stand in the main courtyard with your back to the gate house this is what you’ll see.
The abbey church is on the left. The abbot’s house is in the centre and to the far right is the refectory. The abbot’s house is now lived in by the French owners so it’s not possible to visit. However, you may be lucky enough to be invited into the La Salle de la Source and see the spring water running underneath the building. The western facade of the abbot’s house is particularly stunning. It was re-done in the 18th century to create a good impression because this side of the building is what guests would have seen.
There’s a central path down to the remains of the abbey church and this is the first stop on your visit.
The Abbey Church
As you walk towards the church’s ruins you’ll be walking where the nave used to be. The nave was attached to the abbot’s house and created the south side of the cloister. What remains of the abbey church is the choir or chancel and part of the northern transept. As you reach the choir, remember there would have been a lantern tower here. You can visit the transept but not the choir. You can, happily, see into the choir but it’s not safe to go inside. Pause to look at the architectural details here.
The Cloister and the Chapter House
Follow the route past what remains of the southern transept. You’re now walking along what would have been the galleried cloister. To your left are two windows which are the remains of the chapter house.
Before you continue, take a look at the rear of the abbot’s house. The eastern side of the building is very simple and in stark contrast to the western facade.
The gap in the hedge leads to the first of three gardens. The first garden is a formal garden of box hedges and flowers. It’s on the site of the former cemetery and affords a wonderful view of the southern side of the abbey church. Continue through to the vegetable garden and finally into the medicinal herb garden.
The Monks’ Refectory
This huge barn was constructed in the 14th century. The refectory would have completed the south side of the cloister.
It originally had 3 floors; the ground floor was the refectory, the first floor was the dormitory and the top floor was a small chapel. There’s some fascinating architectural detail in the refectory. The displays of glazed floor tiles and three tombstones of the abbey’s benefactors are wonderful. These were discovered in the ruins of the abbey in 1932 by Charles Dewey. There are also interesting decorations high up on the walls. Leave through the main door, exit through the garden and you’re back in the abbey’s courtyard. If you walk along the south side of the refectory you’ll see the remains of a staircase on the far corner of the building.
Longues sur Mer abbey is located at 17 rue de l’abbaye, 14400 Longues-sur-Mer. There’s a car park that is clearly marked from the main road and is adjacent. Park here and then walk back to the main road through the gate you’ve driven through. The buildings adjacent to the car park are private although they belong to the abbey. The entrance is via the gatehouse.
The abbey is open from May through to July from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive. Opening hours are 2 – 6pm. There’s more information on this website or you can follow the abbey on Facebook @AbbayedeLongues. It costs 5€ to visit and under 18s go free. Prices and times correct as of 2018.
The abbey has been selected to participate in the 2019 heritage lottery for some much-needed restoration funds. But do go and visit in person to experience the calm and serene surroundings as you’re transported back through the centuries.