Geocaching - The former covent of la Baumette

N 47°27.015 - W 000°35.266
The former convent of la Baumette
(Couvent de la Baumette)
5 centuries of history
Difficulty rating :
Site :
Cache size :
Facilities :
In the middle of 15th century, following the devastation of the region during the Hundred Years War, King René took advantage
of the peace and solitude of his numerous manor houses and their beautiful gardens. Of particular note was the mansion at
Chanzé (near Angers). Framed by impressive slate slabs that plunge to the River Maine below, this former slate quarry is
captivating with its large horizontal terraces carved into the blue rock face. One such a shelf (running East to West along the rock
face) was the ideal spot for King René to build a small hermitage - a chapel nestling in a recessed portion of the massive slate
cliffs. Below, at the foot of the rock, a large excavation that provided shelter to the boats that plied their trade up and down the
Maine, reminded him of the La Grotte de la Sainte Baume where Mary Magdelaine was reputed to have stayed. This venerated
site comprising a chapel and simple hostel was known as 'la Baumette' and was located far to the south in Provence.
King René decided to build the church in 1452, placing precious religious relics in its small chapel after ceremoniously
transporting them down the Maine from his nearby castle at Angers. La Baumette became a popular pilgrimage site, so much so
that René decided to replace his humble hermitage with a convent served by his faithful Franciscan monks. First to arrive were
the priests from Angers, soon to be followed by the many preachers and teachers who sought to prepare themselves for their
future apostolate in the public squares and crossroads of the nearby city. These austere and early brethren included François
Rabelais, who began his religious education at la Baumette.
The layout of the convent is typical of its day and follows the Rule of St Benedict, which influenced the planning and construction
of convents and abbeys throughout France. It comprises:
a large chapel and raised dais
galleried cloisters on the southern face
to the northern side, a chapter room and study rooms, and the
above these are the dormitories, with the priests' quarters close to
the chapel and the lay preachers above the refectory
To achieve this impressive floor plan, King René had to overcome what must
have seemed insurmountable challenges. The south side of the church is
embedded in the solid slate. To build the cloisters it was necessary to dig into
the rock face to create a vault some 20m x 20m that runs back 20m into the
solid rock, More than 10,000 tons of slate were excavated from the site and
then transported by boat to the shoreline. To this day, this incredible feat of
engineering creates both a serenity and spectacle with the solid slate wall
standing upright, supporting and dominating the cloisters.
20 years after its construction, the convent was extended to create a bigger kitchen, pantry, laundry room and workshop. With
this increase in the 'logistics' part of the building, the living and working areas were also expanded and so the dormitory and
refectory were enlarged.
Over time, these building disappeared suffering from the ravages of the religious wars that racked the country during the
Renaissance. The convent was transformed in 16th Century and became home to some Franciscan friars who chose to return to
the Order of St. Francis, devoting themselves to prayer and penance. It was eventually abandoned in favour of the more
comfortable convent built next to the castle of Angers. By the middle of the 18th Century, the site had been designated a hostel
for visiting dignitaries from the Franciscan Order and its grandiose terraces cultivated as Mediterranean-style gardens.
The 'Guardian of La Baumette' (a Franciscan abbot) transformed the austere monastic buildings into prestigious and comfortable
accommodation. The structures of the old cloisters replaced with grandiose arcades of tuffeau limestone; elaborate windows
added to the buildings on the south side and, once again, the gardens and terraces were redesigned. Then the Revolution
arrived (1789-1799)! Those friars still living on the site were expelled and the monastery (like many properties owned by the
Church and the Crown) was sold as a 'National Property'. A local entrepreneur bought it. He then resold it to a Monsieur de Jully
who undertook to transform the buildings that were still standing. The renovated residence was again sold and ultimately came
into the hands of Albert Cheux, a famous meteorologist. He built a four-storey tower on the rocky outcrop, where he gazed at
the skies and made his daily notations. The tower finally collapsed during a barrage of gunfire during the Allied invasion to free
France from occupation.
Today, the convent (L'ancien couvent de la Baumette) is a private residence and listed in the register of Historical Monuments.
The property can be visited on Heritage Days (every 3rd weekend in September) and by reservation (groups only) from May
through until October.
It is one of the important locations on the trail of King René
Geocache description:
Be careful where you put your feet!
The ground is very slippery as it is slate schist, which has been worn by
time and industry when boats were hauled by hand down this narrow
passage. But we still went around the edges of the Maine before we 'hit
the jackpot'!
Additional clue :
The answer will come from the sky if you follow the thread of the action ...
Spoiler :