BEC Abbey

This page gives a description, both historical and contemporary, of the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Bec-Hellouin in Normandy as well as practical information on staying at the Abbey. The library of The John Bishop Charitable Trust is housed in the Abbey and is maintained by its community of Benedictine monks.

History of the Abbey

There have been Benedictine monks at Bec since 1039 when Herluin (Hellouin) and his companions founded the monastery in this green and pleasant valley with its little river (Le Bec) watering the meadows. During the early years some of most famous leaders of the Western Church were monks here: Lanfranc and Anselm, the great philosopher and theologian, both of whom became Archbishops of Canterbury.

The Abbey prospered. Its reputation for learning grew and strong links were forged with England. This connection has been happily revived with the Anglican Church since the refounding in 1948.

the great bell towerOver the centuries wars and catastrophes have left little visible of the earlier monastic buildings. The community still proudly possesses the relics of Herluin whose sarcophagus can be seen in the nave of the present church.

Troubled times like the wars of religion and the French Revolution made it impossible for years to continue regular monastic life here. Indeed from 1792 to 1948 the buildings were used as a cavalry barracks. Paradoxically this guaranteed the survival of the noble bell tower of 1467 and the elegant 18th century ranges, which give the monastery its almost palatial air.

The Abbey Today

As the visitor enters from the charming little village, the great bell tower comes fully into view with the large space between it and the south cloister wall where the noble Abbey church once stood. Across the graveled area, around the corner of the buildings where the large and handsome library is housed, over the Bec, is the entrance to the church. Once the refectory, it is long and barrel-vaulted with an altar of green Aosta marble from Anselm’s native province. Here the services are sung throughout the day – on Sundays and festivals with the nuns of the convent which is just 2 kilometers away. The music is remarkably fine.

In a great range at right angle to the church is the refectory – converted from a large 18th century corridor. Here male guests and monks eat together silently at lunch and dinner times while a monk intones the reading.

Accommodation for guests is either in the lofty rooms of another 18th century range at right angle to the refectory or in a modern block just inside the main gate. Breakfast is eaten silently here to a background of meditative recorded music.

So, silence and calm prevail in this sacred place, but there is ample opportunity to make the acquaintance of other guests. The friendliness and kindliness of the community create the welcoming atmosphere of the Abbey.

It is hard to convey the beauty of the setting and buildings as the sun goes down on a fine Summer evening gilding the noble facades or, on a sunny afternoon, as trout bask in the shallow waters of the Bec. Above all, it is the beauty of the worship, sung with such skill and devotion, which reaches the recesses of the heart. One feels that, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 18 v.17).

What It Is Like Staying at Bec Abbey

The Trust leaves it to individuals and groups to make their own arrangements for their stay at the Abbey. Below you will find contact details for Bec and links to travel sites that we hope you will find useful. It is very easy to drive to Bec, public transport takes a little more planning.

Guest house There are three places where readers may stay at Bec, two are located at the Abbey itself and the third at the monastery close by which houses the community of nuns. The guest house in the Abbey is purpose built and dates from the 1970s and it is where all guests take their breakfast. Bathroom facilities in the guest house are good. The old infirmary wing provides the other accommodation and while the plumbing has a certain rustic charm of its own the rooms themselves are generally very large and recall something of the rococo splendour of the Abbey. Views from both locations are delightful.

Male guests are invited to join the community in the refectory for midday and evening meals and especially on Feast Days the food can be quite a treat. Female guests stay in the nun’s monastery where the accommodation is very comfortable and the many of the nuns speak excellent English.

The library operates on the basis of calling up books rather than helping yourself from the shelves. There is a catalogue and index room and a splendid reading room. The library’s opening times are listed on the door and there can be some variation depending on the life of the community. The library is staffed by one of the monks and a lay librarian. On going to Bec it is perhaps worth taking along one or two of your own books for consultation for when the library is not open. The library is well used by visiting scholars.

Where is the abbey?

As stated above, the Abbey is located in the village of Bec-Hellouin.

Travel Links for Journey Planning

Google Map for Bec-Hellouin

www.francetourism.com

www.francekeys.com