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Saint-Jean-aux-bois - English version

For lovers of history

The history of the small village of Saint-Jean-aux-Bois, in the heart of the Compiègne Forest, has for many centuries been intimately linked with that of its abbey. In 1152, the widow of King Louis VI the Fat, Adélaïde of Savoy, decided to found a Benedictine abbey in this isolated spot.

Around the abbey, a protective wall was built, of which all that today remains is the 15th-century fortified gate with its two turrets.

Of the conventual buildings once occupied by the cloistered nuns, all that remains is the magnificent chapter house dating from the second half of the 12th century, with thick buttresses solidly framing the entrance. The church built between 1220 and 1225 presents a simple, austere architecture with a flat chevet, similar to Cistercian constructions. Its grisaille, stained-glass windows with their geometric designs constitute one of the most beautiful treasures. Representation is not absent, with certain scenes depicting the Passion and the Resurrection of Christ.

This abbey was so isolated that the nuns, fearing for their safety, left in 1634 to join the Royallieu Abbey in Compiègne. They were replaced by canons belonging to the Order of Saint Augustine, who in turn left the abbey in 1761 to move to Soissons, with the abbey church thereby becoming a parish church.

Following the French Revolution and the state's confiscation of church property, the monastic buildings were sold between 1791 and 1793. All that remains is the chapter house.

Did you know ?

For centuries, the village remained in the shadow and at the service of the abbey. During the 17th century, following Colbert's reforms, exploitation of the forest was transformed, attracting new arrivals to the village.

In 1794, the village was renamed "La Solitude", so as to erase any trace of religiosity.

Hidden treasures

The village's isolation, tranquillity and picturesque charm would inspire painters and writers, such as Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Utrillo, Paul Fort and Paul Duvauchel, the latter of whom was buried in the village cemetery. This writer, painter and eulogist of rural life and Picardy also served as municipal councillor for Saint-Jean-aux-Bois starting in 1896.

He put great effort into pursuing the restoration and maintenance of the village's monuments.