Norbert of Xanten ( 1080-1134) founded the Premonstratensian order in 1120. He rose up against the grandeur and ostentatious display of worldly affairs in the Abbey of Cluny and its network in Europe.
Following the rules set by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), the Premonstratensian order associated contemplative life and parish management. The order adopted a number of Cistercian values as well, including the abbey plan, architectural style and certain habits and customs.
The Cistercian style had been established in 1098. Bernard de Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the best known members.
The Premonstratensian order was recognized by Pope Honorius II in 1126. The order proliferated throughout Europe and France in particular. Hugues de Fosses (1093-1164), Archbishop of Magdeburg in Saxony and chancellor of the German Empire, fulfilled as successor of Norbert the task of organizing and compiling the order’s first statutes and abbeys.
He did very well. There were six hundred abbeys in the thirteenth century, ninety-four only in France, grouped together in circaries (the order’s administrative provinces).
Premonstratensian monks were regular canons, priests and clerics living together and praying the divine office. Chastity, poverty and obedience, a variant of ora et labora, their life was punctuated by strict schedules and hierarchies. They were dressed in white woolen robes or linen.
The abbey of La Lucerne was founded by relatives of William the Conqueror in 1143. In 1161, the bishop of Avranches negotiated the location of the abbey on the present-day side.
The construction of the abbey started in 1161 and it should take forty-four years. The first work was the monastic building, the place where canons lived, including the sacristy, the passage, the chapterhouse, the woodshed, the calefactory and the dormitory on the first floor.
The first stone of the abbey-church was laid on in 1164. Bishop Archard of Avranches (1100-1171) consecrated the altar and the church was consecrated in 1178. The south monastic buildings, the cellar, the gate house and the chaplaincy and the refectory were completed in 1206.
The abbey survived the Hundred Years’ War, the wars of religion, the French revolution and the Normandy invasion.
Today, the Lucerne abbey is one of the rare remaining Premonstratensian abbeys. The major restoration campaigns respected, quite exceptional, the abbey’s original plan. In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, the abbey was erected in a transitional style between Romanesque and Gothic.
The Norman conquerors had enhanced their architectural style with inspiration from Italy, Byzance, Anglo-Saxons and other European cultures.
La Lucerne’s architecture, ornaments and decoration is a medley of such influences and simple Romanesque style with a few Gothic elements. (Source: Ph. Pique, La Lucerne Saint Trinity Abbey Cully 2008)