Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
20.08.35 Rouzeau, Morimond

20.08.35 Rouzeau, Morimond

Founded in 1117 on the site of a hermitage, the abbey of Morimond was one of the four daughter houses of Cîteaux. The abbey, located in a liminal zone between the Lorraine, the Champagne and Burgundy, remained important to Cistercian monasticism from its inception until its destruction during and after the French Revolution. Despite its importance, Morimond has been understudied until recently. A series of conferences (and publication of their acts) beginning in the 1990's and the creation of an association, Les Amis de l'abbaye de Morimond led to renewed interest in the abbey. It was during the same period that Benoît Rouzeau began his studies of Morimond, which led to the beginning of the programmed excavations that he directed from 2003 to 2014 and 2016-2017. This volume is the result of more than 25 years of study and nearly a decade and a half of excavation.

Morimond: Archéologie d'une abbaye cistercienne is both a synthetic excavation report and a presentation of the material culture of the abbey, mostly from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Rouzeau begins the volume with a review of scholarship on the abbey and presentation of its regional context: geology, topography, location of diocesan boundaries, and the distribution of castles and other ecclesiastical establishments as well as Cistercian houses in the affiliations of Cîteaux, Clairvaux and Morimond. All of these are illustrated with clear, scaled maps.

Rouzeau then turns to a summary presentation of the circumstances of Morimond's foundation and its early development through its periods of flourishing to the community's demise in the French Revolution. This is followed by a brief description of the buildings of the monastery that remain in elevation on the site.

In the most important and compelling section of the book, Rouzeau presents the history of Morimond's water management system from its beginnings in the twelfth century to its final phase of development in the eighteenth. Like many early Cistercian establishments, Morimond was a site well-endowed with water and rich in hydraulic features. The monastery sits on a valley floor surrounded by uplands that are filled with small streams and springs feeding into a modest river that runs through the site. Rouzeau describes the creation of a series of four interconnected ponds that impounded water, and the ditches dug in the forests to channel water to them. Outflow from this system fed an enormous fishpond within the precincts. From the fishpond, water was channeled through the monastic site by a giant collector sewer. As part of the same system, Rouzeau details the construction of secondary and tertiary sewers that emptied into the first, all of which were necessary to controlling the use and removal of water. Many of the smaller sewers and drains pass under the monastic buildings so that their construction, as Rouzeau convincingly argues, needed to precede construction of the buildings themselves. Through a combination of documentary sources and on-site investigation, Rouzeau was able to locate five, and possibly six, mills--three outside the monastic enclosure as well as two, and perhaps three, within it. He suggests that each had a different function--grinding of grain, tanning, fulling, etc.--thus permitting the Cistercian community to meet all of its own needs while remaining isolated from the secular world.

A further aspect of water management concerns the identification of no fewer than nine springs located within the enclosure on the rising land south of the church. These springs were captured in constructed conduits that provided the potable water necessary for kitchen use as well as for ritual use at the lavabo in the cloister, the latter located by geophysical prospection. In a separate section at the end of the book, Rouzeau focuses on the transformation of the hydraulic system during the reconstruction of the abbey in the eighteenth century. Notable was the replacement of the fishpond by an elaborateparterre which was enveloped by an enormous U-shaped water basin that, in turn, necessitated the construction of a second major collector sewer to service it. This second major sewer ran beneath the cloister to rejoin the first west of the church and claustral ranges. Its construction necessitated opening the floors of both the eastern and western claustral ranges.

Throughout his analysis of the water management system, Rouzeau draws comparisons with similar features known at other Cistercian sites, especially in France, England and Germany. The discussion is well-illustrated with photographs, section and elevation drawings, and a series of plans that locate the various types of water features on the site. The importance of Rouzeau's work on Morimond's water management system lies in the completeness of information about how water was captured, distributed, used and evacuated from a single Cistercian site.

In the second section of the book, Rouzeau turns to the architecture of the site, reviewing what is known textually and iconographically about destroyed buildings, and incorporating the results of Henri-Paul Eydoux's limited excavations in 1953-1954. Geophysical prospection of the entire enclosure provided a framework for Rouzeau's investigations. While Rouzeau did not excavate within the church (Morimond II) or in the cloister or claustral ranges, he and his team did make an important contribution to the study of the church. What survives is a two and a half bay section of the north side-aisle wall. Rouzeau and his collaborators produced fully-measured elevation drawings for the surviving wall, both on the interior and on the exterior, identifying two portals that led into the cloister. They recorded layers of painted gesso, masons' marks and construction marks on individual blocks. They also identified various mortars used in the walls for its construction, restoration and repairs. This work is described verbally and presented in elevation drawings and photographs. To the average reader, this may not be not exciting information, but it is essential as a record of the state of the monument, preserving that record for the future.

Unfortunately, Rouzeau and his team did not reopen any of Eydoux's trenches from the 1950's. Doing so would have afforded them the opportunity to establish circulation levels (above mean sea level) and to link older information to new work. Rouzeau did excavate just outside the presumed location of the south side-aisle of the nave of Morimond II (MII), revealing a wall running parallel to the presumed south side-aisle wall of MII. Rouzeau questions whether this is the actual wall of the south side-aisle of MII, which side-aisle would then be wider than its opposite on the north side, or whether it might be the wall of Morimond I (MI), generally presumed to have been built well east of MII. Small trenches such as this one often raise more questions than they answer. We would simply observe that the existence of MI and MII are based as much on two documented church consecrations (1154 and 1253) as on existing masonry. The multiple phases of Morimond's construction biography may be much more complicated.

The main focus of Rouzeau's excavations was a group of connected buildings located alongside the great collector sewer, west of the church and cloister. Rouzeau plausibly identifies this set of four buildings as the abbey hôtellerie complex (guest facilities) based on location, size of the buildings, interior divisions, evidence for function and comparison with other Cistercian sites. Excavation was carried out as an open-area operation and recording proceeded in the same way as recording of the surviving parts of the church. Differences in phases of construction among the buildings, as well as the presence or absence of vaulting or fireplaces, were identified. Walls were recorded inside and out, identifying blocked and new openings and connections between the structures. The buildings were erected in sequence: "Building D" is dated to the late twelfth century largely on the basis of coin finds. "Building E" is dated to 1228-1248 on the basis of dendrochronology of a wooden drain within it. "Building A," the earliest in the sequence, is dated to 1160 to 1190 on the basis of the style of carved elements from within it. Evidence in this case is complicated. Carbon-14 analysis of mortar from the building yielded a date of 1140 to 1160, while coin and pottery from foundation levels suggested an early thirteenth-century date. It is unclear why style was chosen as providing a preferred date, particularly since carved elements can be stockpiled and used later, or brought from elsewhere. The function of "Building C," a long, narrow structure which extended from the hotellerie group all the way to the western claustral range, remains unclear. Following a period of difficulties in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, only three of these buildings survived, and their functions changed from guest facilities to artisanal and other uses. "Building A" was divided into three different functional units: a forge, a stock room and a stables.

The quarry for the two types of stone used in these buildings was identified by Rouzeau's collaborators. The source of the limestone was located at a distance of 30 km, while the grès (a dense sandstone) was evidently quarried locally. Chemical analysis of a sample of decorated floor tile, roof tiles and bricks was related to local clay deposits and the location of the abbey's tileries.

The remaining section of the book presents material culture recovered from the excavations, largely from the hôtellerie complex. More than 2700 sherds of pottery were brought to light and studied by vessel type, firing type, etc. Only in three cases was it possible to provide archaeologically complete profiles, clear testimony of secondary and tertiary deposits rather than primary ones. Where possible, dating was made on the basis of regional comparisons, the best of which come from the Lorraine. Most of the sherds belonged to the fifteenth century with smaller amounts of residual medieval, and early modern sherds. A limited physio-chemical analysis of the most common types of ceramic vessels revealed no connection with local clays, suggesting that pottery was imported.

Table glassware finds were comparatively rich, some dating to the late fourteenth/early fifteenth centuries but most from sixteenth. A selection of this material was presented photographically. The vessel types compared favorably to those of the three regions that surround Morimond. Since the types are generally known, we would have preferred drawings that "hung" the sherds on an outline of the vessel. While the photographs are revealing and beautiful, they say little about the vessel as a complete object.

Metal objects provide perhaps the most archaeologically important ensemble among the material culture. Iron objects included locks, keys, kitchen tools, agricultural tools, nails and various types of rings. Copper based objects included items of clothing--buttons, pins, a thimble, a belt end, a bracelet fragment--as well as a (cow) bell and part of a bridle. Most of this material came from strata dating from 1500 to 1650.

Forty-nine coins, jetons (counting tokens) and two money weights were recovered from the hôtellerie complex, the majority of which date post-1640. The coins included medieval and early modern, royal and feudal ones. Eleven coins and one jeton were photographed. None were drawn. The earliest coins (1180-1220) were found in occupation floors and on major circulation axes of the abbey, thus in primary deposit. Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century coins were recovered from secondary and tertiary deposits so that, while they attest to activity on the site, they do not inform us about activity at the find locations. To end discussion of the material culture on a light note, two game boards were recovered from the excavations, one on slate and one on ceramic, both for jeu de la marelle.

The illustrative material in this volume, especially the maps, is excellent. Photographs, except for historical ones, are all in color. Section and elevation drawings are all scaled and clear. In some cases, the color encoding is so complex that one cannot always relate the legend to the drawing. For example, figure 204 shows four wall drawings with three phases of mortar indicated by three shades of brown. While the plans are excellent, their orientation throughout the volume is not always consistent and is thus confusing. Figure 88 (94), for example, shows a site plan localizing the hôtellerie complex. Figure 89 (95) is a plan of the hôtellerie complex, but it has been rotated 180°. In some cases, there could have been better coordination between the orientation of a photograph and its corresponding plan (e.g. p. 59, figs. 51, 52). These are, however, minor complaints about a volume that is beautifully produced and full of excellent images.

Rouzeau's Morimond offers a valuable contribution on a major Cistercian foundation that adds to the already rich literature on sites of that order. The study of the water management system is one of the most complete for any house and extends across all the centuries of the monastery's existence. The study of the hôtellerie complex and its evolution over time reflects the comparatively recent archaeological interest in the quotidian aspects of the study of religious sites. This volume will be a reference point for the architectural, hydraulic and material culture of the abbey of Morimond. It is to be hoped that Rouzeau will continue his work on the site.​