The Chartreuse du Val de Bénédiction is situated in the historic centre of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and makes up a whole neighbourhood in itself. Hard to believe seeing its banal enough entrance on the town's main street but once you have crossed the first threshold a monumental gate in a courtyard awaits you and foretells of the treasures to be discovered within.
This Charterhouse monastery was founded in the 14th century by the pope Innocent VI in his former cardinal's palace in Villeneuve. Thanks to donations and the pope's own wallet, the monastery never stopped growing up until the French Revolution. Ironically, Innocent VI wanted to reinstate more rigour following the excesses of his predecessor Clément VI. But at its apogee in the 17th century, the Charterhouse counted 100 members: 40 fathers, 30 lay brothers (who could almost be called “businessmonks”) and just as many workers and domestics. Besides the monks cells, the halls, cloisters and chapels, the Chartreuse adorned itself in gold and marble, sculptures and paintings...
Today the ensemble of the Chartreuse monastery still occupies two hectares, of which the visitor can explore about one third.
The church is undoubtably one of the most spellbinding features. Its apse collapsed in the 19th century and was never rebuilt. It is now open to the sky and the Saint André Fort and gives the church an eery feel.
However, other restoration work has been able to reconstitute a large part of the Chartreuse. In the Chapel of Frescoes you can see the decorative elements produced by the painter Matteo Giovannetti (1322-1368), who also painted the frescoes in the Popes' Palace in Avignon. The mausoleum of pope Innocent VI has survived the turmoils of history and the pretty rotunda still stands in the Saint John cloister. You can stroll through the other cloisters, courtyards and gardens and also visit the bugade where the monks did their laundry, the rasure where they were given their tonsures, the prison and the monks' cells. In the Sacristan's cell a quite unexpected plaque recounts that during World War II an American aviator was shot down and landed here, his parachute getting tangled on the chimney!
Today, the cells are still occupied by artists in residence, most of them writers because the Chartreuse is home to the Centre National des Ecritures du Spectacle (national centre for script writing). In summer, it works with the Avignon Theatre Festival, organising Les rencontres d'été de la Chartreuse, which presents shows and performances.
The Valfreniere gate
The cloister St. John
The mausoleum of Pope Innocent VI
Chartreuse du Val de Bénédiction - Rue de la République - 30400 Villeneuve-lès-Avignon
+33 (0)4 90 15 24 24http://chartreuse.org/