The uncompromising purity of Noirlac’s architecture reflects the original Cistercian project and Bernard’s spirituality. Saint Bernard watched over the founding of Noirlac: the few monks who, in 1136, left Clairvaux to found the future abbey, were following Robert, their abbot, a very close relative of Saint Bernard. Indeed, in 1149 Saint Bernard personally called upon the King to help the fledgling community.
Noirlac, an exemplary Cistercian foundation
The choice of a remote site harked back to the ancient tradition of seeking out a “desert”, which was dear to the first oriental Christian hermits: the site of Noirlac was, at the time, a swampy coppice, which met with the requirements of the Cistercian Rule. The terrain formed a natural boundary, completed soon after by monastic buildings. To conform with the standard plan of Cistercian abbeys, the construction originally rigorously separated the community, on either side of the cloister. To the east, was the monks’ wing, comprising a dormitory, a chapter house and a heated room, quite distinct from the more rudimentary quarters of the lay brothers, situated to the west.
Cistercian asceticism is perfectly apparent in the simplicity of the architectural forms: bare stonework, truncated columns, minimal ornaments on the capitals… the ensemble is a powerful call to austerity.