The old Plantagenet town of LeMans rises high upon a pinnacle, with tiered houses in golden coloured stone, clinging for dear life, to the riverside hill. Part and part girdled by a 3rd century Roman wall, with richly decorative brickwork, displaying the Empire’s wealth.
Berengaria of Navarre, daughter of Sancho VI, King of Navarre, was born in 1165, and married Richard the Lionheart in May of 1191 in Limassol, Cyprus. In April of 1199, her estranged husband died.
England’s crown passed from Richard to his brother John. John withheld funds due to Berengaria, and she lived a life of poverty, until she could stand no more, and threw herself at the mercy of the French Monarchy, who gave her the town of LeMans.
Berengaria opted to build the Cistercian Abbey of L’Epau between the town and forest in 1228. Construction commenced on the 25th March 1229 by Citeaux monks, who resided in the area. She retired to the Abbey and on the 23rd December 1230 died, and was buried within the Abbey.
Design of the Abbey, was based on a classic construction, similar in style to other Cistercian buildings. The main buildings took till 1280 to complete and final construction was completed in 1365.
Monks fled the Abbey during the Hundred Years War, and the town inhabitants, feared troops would seize the building, as a base to attack LeMan.
In 1366, the damaged sections, destroyed the previous year were rebuilt by the Bourgeois (Middle Class Property Owners) of LeMans.
Charles VI taxed the local inhabitants, leading to the restoration of the Abbey and Church (1400-1444). Guillaume de Bonneville, an artisan played a major part in its restoration.
In 1960 during the restoration of the Abbey, Pierre Terouanne uncovered a skeleton of a woman who died in her sixties, which is thought to be; Berengaria of Navarre. The remains have been preserved beneath the stone effigy of the queen, which is now located in the Chapter House of the Abbey.