After ten years of work, the Cluniac Abbey Church of Payerne has now regained its medieval splendor. Reopened to the public on July 11, 2020, it offers an exciting journey through a millennium of history.
This large-scale renovation was made possible thanks to the joint investment of the municipality of Payerne, the canton of Vaud and the Swiss Confederation, as well as numerous private donors. “These works are a small step in the millennial history of the abbey, but they will allow it to face the next millennium without fear,” rejoiced the ancient union of Payerne and councilor of the Vaud State, Christelle Luisier. A 3D animation shows the developments in the construction of the Payerne Abbey Church.
The foundation of the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Payerne on the site of the Roman villa of the Paterniacus family was between 961 and 965. The Empress Adelaide of the Holy Roman Empire and her brother Conrad of Burgundy donated the Payerne convent to the Cluny Benedictine monastery. Construction work on the current church, which replaced the Carolingian building, began around the middle of the 11th century. A new nave was built around 1070-1080, followed by the construction of the choir. The building was later surmounted by the Gothic bell tower with its four turrets and its crown at the foot of the spire, which characterizes its exterior appearance. Two fires ravaged it in 1235 and 1420, but each time it was rebuilt.
During the invasion of the Vaud canton in 1536, the Bernese took possession of the convent as well as part of its rights and land, which until then were under the suzerainty of the kings of Burgundy and then the Dukes of Savoy. Fribourg welcomed the monks who remained faithful to the Catholic faith. In 1562, the abbey was closed. The abbey church was then successively transformed into an granary, a bell foundry, military cantonment, prison, and then a fire engine room. It has several floors that divide its space. The Bernese destroyed the cloister as well as part of the abbey buildings. The others were transformed into the bailiffs’ residence.
The renaissance of the abbey church dates from the end of the 19th century. Historians have rebelled against the disrespectful use of this Romanesque-style monument and pleaded for its renovation. The abbey church was listed as a historic monument in 1900. Beginning in 1920, excavations and renovation work were undertaken to restore the abbey to its original state.