The abbaye at Evron is right next to the basilica, in the centre of town, by the market square. A huge combination of buildings and gardens, it used to be a convent up until a few years ago. The nuns, I believe, became too old to manage the daily routine of life there, and moved out. The building was empty, unused and for sale.
A big unused building like that, slowly decaying in the middle of town is a big problem for the local authorities, and they had been wondering for a while what will become of it. They had thought about moving the council into it, but the cost of renovating the building and bringing it up to current norms was too high.
The problem was solved by the building being bought by the Communauté Saint Martin, an organisation that is part of the catholic church, in order to run a seminary there. They have spent about five and a half million euros on renovations and refurbishment. They had an open day last weekend so you could walk around and take a look (and learn more about the mission, natch). Here's some photos.
The training and selection is rigourous, an annual intake might be 20-40 people, while maybe 5-9 will graduate. The dining room tells the story: three tables for the first years, two for the second years, one for the thirds.
The dinner bell is operated by a rope that passes into the kitchen. The dining tables were laid out to show the style of meals and of serving. The little plaque above the door has evidently been rescued from the old building - dinner for 13. I don't know if the water dispenser works, but in one of the rare displays of faulty workmanship, it is not quite vertical.
I was interested to see a book of sheet music iin the ancient style, displayed near the entrance. I imagined that this would be some relic of past musical activity, but no. I was surprised to see, in their modern, stark church, a clearly new book with the same musical notation.
Many parts of the building had been renovated, and those parts that are wood have mostly (not all) been done in oak. The pews in the modern church were of a formal design, no frills, and gave a very quiet atmosphere, despite the crowds of curious visitors.
The gardens are quite large, with lines of fruit trees delineating different vegetable-growing areas. These haven't been maintained by the nuns, but doubtless the arrival of young, fit and enthusiastic men will sort things out. The community is supposed to be self-sufficient; they repair their own vehicles, grow their own food, and keep bees.
It was Anita who put all the clues together: it was the vicar in the garden with the lead pipe.
And finally, a few random pics.