The Abbey Notre Dame des Neiges is located on the limit of Ardeche and Lozere department between La Bastide Puylaurent and Saint Laurent les Bains

Monastery Notre Dame des Neiges Abbey (Our Ladie of Snow) between Ardeche and Lozere, France.

Monastery Notre Dame des Neiges Abbey (Our Ladie of Snow) between Ardeche and Lozere, France.

 The Monastery of "Notre Dame des Neiges" Abbey (Our Lady of Snow)

Alt. 1081m.

Abbaye Notre Dame des Neiges ArdècheLike human beings, lands seem to be marked out by their destiny. The high Vivarais Mountains situated between the rivers Loire and Allier have sheltered Cistercian monasteries from the 12th Century to the French Revolution. Mazan was founded between 1119 and 1121 and Les Chambons between 1152 and 1164. On the left bank of the Allier there was also a convent of nuns at Mercoire en Gevaudan, entrusted to the Abbot of Mazan.

For seven centuries Cistercian life was lived out in these houses of prayer and charity until the coming of the Revolution destroyed them and sold their assets. Part of the latter, the Mas de La Felgere, a former Chambons grange, was re-bought in 1791 by Jean Chalbos, the last lessee. His son Jean Antoine saw the family line die out. Of the two sons left to him, one, Casimir, was a priest at St. Sulpice, the other, Theodore, was a priest in the diocese of Viviers. All three decided that their proper- ty should revert to the monastic Order which had brought honor to Mazan and Les Chambons.

Abbaye Notre Dame des Neiges ArdècheThey made offers to the abbey of Notre Dame d'Aiguebelle in the diocese of Valence. The abbot, Dom Orsise and his fellow monks were unwilling to establish a monastery on such poor agricultural land with its harsh climate. They refused the offer of the Chalbos family. Father Casimir Chalbos sought the intervention of Mgr. Guibert, bishop of Viviers and of Mgr. Chartrousse bishop of Valence. They agreed to help. With their support Fr. Chalbos once more put his proposal before Dom Orsise who agreed to make the attempt. The foundation was decided on August 5, 1850, the feast day of Notre Dame des Neiges which is the title of Saint Mary Major in Rome. It was to be the happy name of the new monastery.

On August 13th Mgr. Chartrousse signed the official acceptance charter and on the 25th of August a first group of monks left Aiguebelle on foot bringing what requirements could be fitted into a small wagon drawn by a single horse. On the evening of the 28th they took possession of the La Felgere domain, its poor farm and adjoining hostel which had once served as a relay station between the Vivarais and the Gevaudan.

Abbaye Notre Dame des Neiges ArdècheEleven years went by, during which was realised the canonical establishment of the community and the construction of a permanent monastery lower down the valley at the junction of the Rieufrais and the Val des Loups streams. On the 16th of July 1861 the monks moved in amidst celebrations presided over by Mgr. Foulguier, bishop of Mende, acting as delegate for the bishop of Viviers, Mgr. Delcusy, who was unable to attend.

The monastery was still only a priory governed by Dom Gabriel Monbet. The authorities of the Order hesitated giving it the rank of abbey, not because of a shortage of recruits for there were plenty but because of the financial difficulties which resulted from the construction of the monastery.

Dom Gabriel was recalled to Aiguebelle to become its abbot. At Notre Dame des Neiges the financial situation began to improve and it possessed a large and fervent community. Consequently on June 16th, 1874 the Conventual Chapter was convoked to proceed with the election of the first abbot. Dom Polycarp Marthoud, prior since 1858, was elected. The new abbey had 90 members. On the 26th of October 1878, R.L. Stevenson (author of Treasure Island) visited Notre Dame des Neiges. He gives an evocative and interesting account of his stay in his book Travelling By Donkey Across the Cevennes.

Abbaye Notre Dame des Neiges ArdècheIn 1880 the Republican government began an attack on religious congregations considering them to be enemies of the regime. It was a dark period for many monasteries. It was decided to evict the monks of Notre Dame des Neiges and the date was set for the beginning of November. However, a providential snowfall, as quick as it was unexpected, prevented the eviction. Passions were cooled by the winter and the monks had a brief respite. Abbot Polycarp, fea- ring renewed persecution wanted to secure a refuge for his community. Together with a group of fellow monks he founded the priory of Akbes, in Syria. Though initially very well received by both Christians and Muslims the community had to flee because of war at the beginning of 1915. Renewed hostilities in 1920 led to the sacking of the monastery and the death of Fr. Philippe. It was the end of Akbes.

Abbaye Notre Dame des Neiges ArdècheAfter Dom Polycarp's departure for Akbes, Dom Joseph Goddard governed Notre Dame des Neiges as "Superior Delegate". In October 1887 Dom Martin Martin was elected as abbot. He chose Dom Goddard as his prior. As the perse- cution continued they established a refuge in Cordemois, Belgium. It was never used as the monastery was eventually spared.

On the 16th of January 1890 Dom Martin had the pleasure of accepting Charles de Foucauld as a novice and of being consequently his first mas- ter in monastic spirituality. The novice was given the name Brother Alberic. A cavalry officer he had been converted in 1886. His first stay at Notre Dame des Neiges lasted only several months as he soon left for Akbes. He was to spend seven years as a Trappist in either N.D. des Neiges or Akbes.

In August 1900, after spending some time living alone in Palestine, he returned to Notre Dame des Neiges to study in preparation for his priestly ordination which took place on the 9th of June 1901 at Viviers. He then left for the Sahara where a tragic death awaited him on the first of December 1916. Separation did not break the bond of affection which linked him to his first monastery. From the desert he wrote to Dom Martin, "I have kept all Notre Dame des Neiges in my heart."  

The first successor of Dom Martin I had a brief tenure as abbot. Coming from Aiguebelle, Dom Martin Jouve was elected in 1909, and he was practically already a resigned abbot when a fire des- troyed the monastery on the night of the 24th of January, 1912. It was almost the end of the monastery, but the community rallied around its prior, faced up to the task and began preparations to rebuild the abbey. The first stone was laid on the 2nd of July 1912. Abbaye Notre Dame des Neiges ArdècheIn October the prior, Dom Augustin Martin became abbot. Under his leadership the work was soon completed. Two years after the fire the new monastery was ready. An improved financial situation promoted new growth. But the Great War of 1914 brought misery and trials: seven monks never returned from the battlefields.

Dom Jean-Marie Balmes became abbot in 1932. His abbacy was marked during the War of 1939- 45 by sufferings, deprivations and anxiety for monks taken prisoner. It was during this period that Robert Schuman, later to become famous, sought refuge in the abbey. Dom Jean-Marie left behind him the memory of great simplicity and goodness.

Dom Toussaint Louche succeeded him in 1949. It was he who began the program of renewal and transformation done since his time. The abbacy of Dom Claudius Valour (1959-1982) was an important one. He saw to the construction of the guesthouse, the renovation of the monastery as well as the refitting of the wine cellar and premises used to receive the many guests and those on retreat at the abbey.

These important developments were possible due to the success of the wine cellar. The production of altar wine ("Oeuvre du Vin de Messe") was begun in 1900 on the property of St. Julien de Cassagnas in the Gard. It has since been moved to Bellegarde a region renowned for its famous sparkling white wine (A.O.C.) Using grapes bought from local grape-growers the monks produce not only liturgical wines, but also table wines and sparkling white wines, "Fleur des Neiges", as well as a number of other products. With this the community makes its living and can also share with those in need.

On the 5th of November 1982 Dom Pierre-Marie Fayolle took over as abbot of this community which is full of hope for its future, confident that God who has always watched over it and blessed it will continue to do so.

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Old romantic Hotel, L'Etoile Guest-House is a mountain retreat in the South of France. With a beautiful park along the Allier River, L'Etoile Guesthouse is located in La Bastide-Puylaurent between Lozere, Ardeche and Cevennes. Many hiking trails like GR70 Stevenson trail, Regordane way (St Gilles trail), GR7, GR72, Le Cevenol, Roujanel, Margeride loop and Allier river trail. The right place to relax.