Bourg-en-Bresse & Brou Abbey

At Bourg-en-Bresse we remembered why we knew the name…

Bresse is the famous French chicken, its plumage white, its crown red and its feet blue. As we neared the town every truck stop and roadside restaurant advertised:
** Menu du jour? Poulet! **
** Offre du jour? Poulet! **
** Voulez à emporter? Poulet! **
** Envie d’un repas? Poulet! **

Heading along a plane tree-lined road towards a rural village we stopped chuckling at chicken jokes and looked at each other in consternation. Was that awful high-pitched-grating noisy squeal us? Unfortunately, yes. Teeth and fillings still intact we discovered Bertha’s rear offside wheel to be shockingly hot.

Limping along we joined the back of a crowd of French-flag waving families following a jazzy brass section along the main road through the village. The horns parped and we squealed to the amusement of those in front of us. The parade turned off the road and cheerily waved to us. Later, we found out it was VE Day celebrations so highly appropriate that us Brits should be bringing up the rear, albeit noisily.

Parked up next to a human circus camp at Brou, just outside the centre of Bourg-en-Bresse we wandered across to its Abbey. What a spectacle!

Dazzling Brou Abbey on a dull day

The exterior was half covered in scaffold as the white block stone was being meticulously cleaned and even on this dull day it shone brightly. An English pamphlet informed that the early 16th century monastery had the “finest miscarriages in Southern France”. Intriguing.

A romantic story set the scene: in 1504 the existing priory was in dilapidation. Margaret of Austria, in her twenties and having lost the love of her life to a fatal chill, vowed to raise a new abbey in honour of her dead husband Philibert the Fair, Duke of Savoy.

Margaret of Austria

Poor Margaret had had a torrid time of it, being engaged to the Dauphin of France who chose instead to fight the English and marry someone else, she was palmed off in marriage to a French baron years older than her who quickly died. Finding true love with Philibert he also died at just 24 after just three years of marriage.

Margaret commissioned the building of a new abbey to house his, hers, and her mother-in-law’s tombs. She project managed the building of the abbey, although she died in 1530, one year before its completion.

The abbey is unique in France with three separate cloisters, two chapter houses and more than 4000 square meters of space in which just twelve monks lived and served.

Their sleeping rooms, in a long line of dormitories, now house the Abbey’s art collection from 16th century icons to 17th century Flemish art and 19th century troubadour works.

Inside the church, built in high gothic style by Loys Van Boghem commissioned by Margaret, cleaning work was still in progress but the high ribbed and vaulted nave was dazzling in its white stone and colonnaded simplicity. Up above the ornate carved choir stalls we wandered along stone balconies amid Romanesque arches.

The dust settling from a recent sand blast throughout the south transept did not diminish the dazzling splendour of the church’s simple but elegant design. The “miscarriages” turned out to be the Misericordia that the choir singers tucked themselves up alongside to look standing, whilst sitting.

Feeling emboldened we marched the mile or so into the town which proved depressingly closed and populated by chavvy types in grubby grey tracksuits arm in arm with heavily pregnant teenage girls.

We returned to the sophistication of the Brou Tabac and enjoyed a glass of beer with a view of the Abbey to toast its splendour.

Breathtaking Brou Abbey in early morning sunshine