Classed as a historic monument since 1854, the Abbaye de Sylvanès became a heritage site for culture (CCR) in 2015 and is today an important centre for culture, art and spirituality. Its project is based on music and intercultural dialogue, with a mission to experiment, share and communicate.
THE HERITAGE SITE
Nestled in a wooded valley in the heart of the Occitaine region, the former Cistercian abbey of Sylvanès was the home of a monastic community founded in 1136 by Pons de l’Héras. It was a daughter house of the Abbaye de Mazan, and alongside the abbeys of Bonneval, Thoronet and Sénanque dates from the order’s most active period.
A jewel of Cistercian art, the abbey possesses one of the largest Romanesque naves in France, giving it an exceptional acoustic which is particularly suited to vocal music. The French Revolution signalled the end of monastic life at the abbey, and the buildings were requisitioned as national property. Part of the abbey was dismantled, the rest becoming farm buildings. Classed as a historic monument in 1854, the abbey was purchased by the town of Sylvanès in 1970, and in 1975 a comprehensive restoration project began under the direction of the Association des Amis de l’Abbaye, led by Father André Gouzes and Michel Wolkowitsky, the current director.
THE CULTURAL PROJECT
The abbey’s cultural project is centred on music and intercultural dialogue, focusing on the issues of training, transmission, personal development and lifelong well-being. The project’s key aims are to ‘experiment, share, transmit’, and its five main areas of work are: heritage; discovery and interpretation of the site; diffusion, creation and musical production; vocal training for amateurs and professionals; youth education and artistic activities; and the exploration of intercultural dialogue. The CCR label signals a commitment to a new dynamism and galvanises the work undertaken by the centre over the past 40 years.
Benefiting from an international reputation, the abbey offers a year-round programme of vocal training, cultural interaction, education work with young people, and an international festival, Music sacrées – Musiques du Monde. The abbey’s exceptional heritage makes it an important tourist destination in the area. Every year in July and August the festival Music sacrées – Musiques du Monde presents a carefully selected programme which links the great Western sacred music repertoire with popular and sacred music traditions from around the globe. In addition, numerous music courses aimed at amateurs as well as professionals (choral singing, opera, baroque, sacred music, vocal technique) run from March to November. The abbey places educational and engagement activities for young people at the heart of its work. Currently, a project to provide accommodation (Château de Gissac, Maison de Blanche and an abbey hotel) is being undertaken by Les Résidences de l’Abbaye, an autonomous organisation.
A LOCAL AND REGIONAL PRESENCE
The cultural project of the Abbaye de Sylvanès is at the heart of a regional development policy involving partnerships with communities, the state and education authorities, and has already welcomed 10,000 students from local schools and colleges over the past ten years. In its new role as a unifying site for the region, the abbey seeks to deepen the partnerships with the region’s cultural organisations and community and social associations, notably with tailored activities for the elderly or disabled.