Ardenne Abbey


In 1596, Prior Saint John of the Cross, coming from the nearby Belle-Étoile Abbey, started restoring Ardenne Abbey. As early as 1598, the rule of life fully complied again with the statutes of the Order of Prémontré. In 1609, the abbey and four new altars were solemnly consecrated and a religious service was performed, an event that had not happened for fifty years! The general reform of the Order of Prémontré was introduced in Ardenne around 1620. In 1629, Saint John of the Cross confirmed the strict observance of the rule of austerity in Ardenne Abbey. The canons revived the old practices of the rule, e.g.:

  • The office of Matins at midnight,
  • Perpetual abstinence from meat,
  • Common refectory and dormitory.

Ardenne Abbey revived: If in 1587 only a dozen or so of canons were living in Ardenne, they were about thirty in 1628. Considered as the second founder of Ardenne Abbey, Saint John of the Cross also tried his best to renovate the Abbey. He closed the arches of the Gothic cloister to protect it from cold and wind, and had a new dormitory built. More importantly, he provided the place with a library containing about one thousand eight hundred books. In sum, Saint John of the Cross carried out both a spiritual and material renovation. When he died in 1654, Ardenne was the most powerful Premonstratensian Abbey in Normandy.

After the death of Saint John of the Cross, Ardenne canons continued his renovation work. The royal decree of 1666 encouraged them to do so: All monastic Orders were asked to invest their capital in buildings to bring idle assets back into productive use to support national economy, and employ labour force.

Around 1680, Premonstratensian Canons completed the construction of a new monumental gateway dedicated to Saint Norbert, directly giving access to the regular places from the North. A few years later, in 1686, the ruined archways of the abbey were replaced by wooden intersecting ribs. The gallery along the cloister was restored in 1689 and two prominent chapels were built against the north wall of the abbey.

The Press House was restored and a new abbey abode was built after 1711 on the north side of it, outside the regular places, for the use of the commendatory abbot, who, as it should be remembered, did not belong to the canonical community. This building, no longer in existence, is attributed to architect Pierre Queudeville, from the parish of Saint-Nicolas in Caen.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, in Ardenne Abbey and elsewhere, it can be generally observed that living in an abbey became less ascetic, more comfortable, with more spacious, better ventilated, lighter dwellings, following the architectural designs marked by the ideals of the Enlightenment age: order and reason. Building work, often using materials from the demolition of old-fashioned medieval buildings, was carried on till 1789. It was part of the artistic revival of Norman monasteries during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Ardenne Canons’ incessant building activity favoured the career of the most famous architects, directly coming from the Order of the Prémontré, Brother Eustache Restout, born in Caen in 1655 and dead in 1743. Introduced to painting by his father, Marc-Antoine Restout, Eustache made his Profession of Faith in Ardenne Abbey in November 1677. Even if he helped to rebuild and decorate Ardenne and Falaise Abbeys, his most famous work is Mondaye Abbey and Cloister. Located about twenty miles from Ardenne Abbey, this church was rebuilt following the classical canons of architecture of the time.

Eustache’s eldest brother, Eugène Restout, was also an artist and canon of Ardenne Abbey. He published the manifesto La Réforme de la peinture (“Painting Reform”) in Caen in 1681. He died relatively young and did no architectural work himself.


1682, « Abbaye d’Ardeine les Caen », Gomboust, Bibliothèque de Caen la Mer

1682, « Abbaye d’Ardeine les Caen », Gomboust, Bibliothèque de Caen la Mer


« Veüe de L’Abbaye de Nostre Dame d’Ardenne de l’ordre de Prémontré réformé... », 1702, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Collection Gaignères

« Veüe de L’Abbaye de Nostre Dame d’Ardenne de l’ordre de Prémontré réformé… », 1702, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Collection Gaignères