La Lucerne Abbey in France Is a New Beacon in the Night of De-Christianization
This magnificent 12th-century Premonstratensian monument, located a few miles from Mont Saint-Michel, hosts a large spiritual and cultural center project.
The latest religious news from France — focused on things like the disturbing increase in anti-Christian acts and church desecrations, the scandals within the Church, and the active promotion of bioethical laws contrary to the natural law — has overshadowed another fundamental movement at work for several years.
Underneath the European nation’s relentless wave of de-Christianization, solid new initiatives continue to quietly flourish, unperturbed by the surrounding adversity. They are destined to take root in the country’s landscape, like dozens of small fireflies in the night.
Indeed, there couldn’t be a better metaphor to describe the project led by the medieval Abbey of La Lucerne, located in the heart of the forests of the Thar Valley, near the Mont Saint-Michel Bay in Normandy. Taking its name from the Latin Lucerna (lamp), a term that also refers to the office that the first Christians sang on Saturday night to remember Christ the Light watching over humanity, the building erected in the 12th century is one of the oldest Premonstratensian abbeys in Europe.
Sold as public property during the French Revolution after centuries of glorious spiritual influence, and subsequently left to decay in the 19th century, La Lucerne experienced an initial renaissance under the impetus of a zealous abbot, Marcel Lelégard (1925-94), who undertook a colossal restoration work during the second half of the 20th century.
It is a project of a new magnitude that was initiated a few months ago by the young abbots Guillaume Antoine and Henri Vallançon. Living according to the Rule of St. Augustine without belonging to the Premonstratensian Order, they were entrusted by the bishop of their Diocese of Coutances and Avranches with the mission of developing a spiritual and cultural center, intended to “quench the thirst” for beauty and transcendence of a growing number of people disenchanted by the ephemeral attractions of postmodernity.
Refocusing on God, Away From the World’s Turmoil
“Our world is in search of favorable places where people can freely settle down, distance themselves from their daily lives, discern, find meaning and aspiration,” Bishop Laurent Le Boulc’h said during the Sept. 8 inauguration Mass.
As such, the center, which is still in its infancy, was designed to grow into a village that will bring together religious and laypeople, all of whom will be called upon to put their respective skills, intellectual or manual, at the service of the community.
Retreatants, families, artists, pilgrims ... this secular abbey will soon be able to welcome all kinds of travelers in its accommodation wing, still under construction. The events that will be held there will touch on the most varied artistic and intellectual expressions, as long as they respond to a real search for truth and aesthetics.
“The goal is to weave a Catholic matrix between people with specific skills and to insert these talents into the daily life and programming of our spiritual center,” Father Guillaume Antoine, rector of La Lucerne, told the Register.
The uniqueness of this initiative, in his view, lies in the great scarcity, particularly in urban areas, of places of scholarship that offer a dialogue between the world of art and culture and Catholic spirituality in a place of intense liturgical life.
For its first summer, the center already has a busy schedule, with plans to host more than 300 scouts, as well as exhibitions of sacred art, lectures and some 30 concerts. The abbey, where the famous theologian Louis Boyer was a longtime resident and wrote dozens of books, will also open its doors to various musical groups for recording albums, as well as to composers, painters or writers seeking inspiration, whether they are believers or not. “All those who come here know that they are entering into a dialogue with this abbey to have a spiritual experience,” Father Antoine explained. “We respect their conscience completely; we simply expose them to grace.”
It must be said that the atmosphere of this medieval Premonstratensian church, made of stone and glass, is particularly appropriate, with its choir immersed in the light of an immense glass roof, where the cycle of the seasons unfolds throughout the year. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the Gregorian chants that rise beneath its vaults at each of the six offices of the day.
Indeed, still under the impulse of Abbot Lelégard, the abbey has built a reputation as a place of transmission of Gregorian chant, since the ’70s and ’80s, when these sacred chants had deserted the churches. Today, many people come here to learn, mainly the younger generation. “Throughout the year, we organize Gregorian meetings, Gregorian retreats, Gregorian regattas or Gregorian routes, events that often gather around 300 people and that are part of our ‘Gregorian Network’,” Father Antoine continued.
The Masses at La Lucerne are still celebrated facing the east, in accordance with the centuries-old tradition and the architectural structure of the church.
At the Shores of Mont Saint-Michel
The proximity of the abbey to the famous Mont Saint-Michel, the Norman “wonder” listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has made it over the centuries a destination of choice for millions of pilgrims who started their travel to the Mont from there.
La Lucerne is located a few steps from the starting point of the “crossing of the shores,” the path that connects the two abbeys and allows people to cross the bay on foot in about four hours. A true pilgrimage for some, a hike for others, this journey is never less than a spiritual quest.
“To live this itinerary, which is inspired by a thousand-year-old custom, as a pilgrim, leaving from one abbey to another, crossing the shore of Mont Saint-Michel, with one’s feet in the tangue [the typical marine sedimentthat causes the quicksand phenomenon], is truly an unforgettable experience,” said Father Antoine, who hopes that the expansion and enhancement of La Lucerne will contribute to increasing the flow of walkers seeking meaning on this blessed route.
A Bridge Between France and the U.S.
This ambitious project that he is developing together with Father Vallançon has already intrigued many Catholics and other history buffs on the other side of the Atlantic, as Americans have had a special bond with Normandy since the D-Day landings in 1944. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower resided in a villa about 2 miles from La Lucerne Abbey during the year that marked the liberation of France from Nazi occupation forces.
“We are at a geographic crossroads in the Franco-American friendship, and through this project we aim to renew and enhance those ties,” Father Antoine said, stating that the project idea was inspired by the American writer Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option.
La Lucerne’s rector also mentioned a recent tour of the project across the United States, made possible through a priest from the Diocese of New York, Father Andrew O’Connor, who took a special liking to the abbey and its unique heritage.
“In this adversity of the de-Christianization of old Europe, American Catholics are very supportive and contribute to the spiritual renewal that the West needs through their missionary zeal and concern for rescuing the threatened Christian heritage.”
While the new center still has much to build on — 70% of its complex has been restored to date — the abbey is already overflowing with requests for accommodations and visits in the coming months and is expected to receive members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre shortly.
Such momentum is already beginning to attract families, eager to settle near the site in the middle of the countryside to live the Gospel’s message and simplicity on a daily basis. As with other initiatives developed by historic monasteries in recent years, this should help to revive the soul of the region, as in the glorious days of the cathedrals.
SUPPORT THE PROJECT
Donors in the United States can make tax-deductible donations to the Abbaye de la Lucerne through the French Heritage Society.