Abbaye aux Dames - History and Facts | History Hit

Abbaye aux Dames

Amy Irvine

11 Dec 2023
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Patrick / CC BY-SA 2.0

About Abbaye aux Dames

Founded around 1062 by William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda of Flanders, the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen (also known as the Abbey of Sainte-Trinité – the Holy Trinity Abbey) is a former Benedictine convent, built on a similarly grand scale to the Abbaye aux Hommes (the Abbey of Saint-Étienne). It was highly renowned from the 11th century up until the French Revolution, and is considered a masterpiece of Norman Romanesque art.

History of Abbaye aux Dames

Built between 1060-1080, the abbey was consecrated on 18 June 1066, and is a fine example of Norman architecture. Its interior contains a host of details, including an impressive crypt with barrel vaults supported by 16 close-ranked columns, and an 18th-century convent with French-style garden. Queen Matilda died in 1083, and was buried in the choir under a slab of black marble. 

The abbey’s original spires were destroyed in the Hundred Years’ War, and replaced by less striking balustrades in the early 18th century. The French Revolution later saw the nuns dispersed and the abbey suppressed.

In 1823, Caen’s town council decided to transfer the ancient Hôtel-Dieu to the former monastic premises for use as a hospital. The canonesses regular, who had assumed responsibility for the hospital from the two abbeys during the 14th century, established themselves there, operating until 1908 when the facility was given to the Hospice Saint-Louis for use as a nursing home.

Abbaye aux Dames today

Despite losing its original spires, the abbey remains hugely impressive, and its 18th century convent buildings are now home to the Lower Normandy Regional offices. Restoration last occurred in the late 20th century, and today the Abbaye aux Dames is a must-see attraction in Caen. 

The abbey hosts free (pre-booked) guided tours every day (at 2:30pm and 4pm) in both French and English, lasting 1 hour 15 minutes, and is wheelchair accessible.

Getting to Abbaye aux Dames

Abbaye aux Dames is located on Place Reine Mathilde in Caen, less than 1 mile east of Caen Castle. This part of Caen is easy and enjoyable to walk around. A public bike-sharing service station is just outside the abbey.

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Caen Historic Sites

From its picturesque abbeys to its powerful castle, the French city of Caen and its surrounding area brims with impressive sites, thanks in part to its most famous resident, William the Conqueror. Here are 6 historic sites connected to this medieval king.