We went to a concert at le Thoronet Abbey the other night, featuring Gabriel Fumet, a distinguished French flautist playing Mozart. It wasn’t the programme we were keen to hear; we didn’t want to miss the chance to experience the acoustics of this 12th century Abbey. Locals had told us that le Thoronet Abbey has the third best acoustics of any building in the world! (I don’t know if that’s a fact, or not, but I bet it beats the Sydney Opera House hands down!)
le Thoronet Abbey can’t be seen from the road as it’s hidden away on grounds surrounded by oak forest. Seclusion is what they wanted and needed. It was built for the Cisterian monks, who believed in “prayer and work” and wanted to eliminate all other distractions from their lives. They lived off the land, pressing olives for oil and making wine from grapes, using their own presses which are still visible. They kneaded dough on stone slates and made their own bread. Their lives were devoted to manual labour, prayer, devotion and singing.
The Abbey was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, using honey and brown coloured stone. No mortor was used to join the stone together and no adornments of any kind were added to either the outside or inside of the buildings. It is very plain.
Famous for Acoustics
The Acoustics in the church are such that an echo can be held for up to 13 seconds, anywhere within the church. This meant that the monks would have to concentrate on the job at hand in order to produce harmonious chants; another aspect of their discipline. God help anyone who sang a bum note!
Next week a choir will be performing Gregorian Chants in the church; an example of what the monks would have sounded like so long ago. I plan to go!
The road to le Thoronet was one of the prettiest we’d travelled so far with grape vines on both sides.
Before the concert we dined in a little street-side cafe in the little hamlet of le Thoronet, quite separate from the Abbey and about 1 km up the road. Here’s Donie, chatting with one of the locals, as you do.