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.

Noirlac’s stained-glass windows
It was in 1975 that the artist Jean-Pierre Raynaud was commissioned to design stained-glass windows for the abbey and refectory. Adopting the Cistercian ideals of utter simplification and the rejection of all artifice, the artist succeeded in bringing the abbey’s bay and rosette windows to life.

The light admitted in moderation into the enclosure of their retreat had to remain as God had created it, without any affectation or embellishments,
splendid in its simple purity.

Georges Duby

Walking towards the choir in the abbey, one notices that the light grows in intensity and emphasises the white glass which, charged with nuances, transforms the monks’ choice of “enclosure” into a hymn to freedom.

Consult the article (F) on Noirlac’s stained-glass windows in the magazine “France-Amérique” from March 2018.

Watch the documentary (F) by Raynal Pellicer on the renovation of Noirlac’s stained-glass windows of from 1975 to 1977.