Saint-Wandrille Abbey’s Our Lady guesthouse

A short history of the Saint-Joseph hotel business

What we call Saint-Joseph guesthouse is a house, with four sparrow-stepped gables and no clearly defined style, which doesn’t fit in with any of the nearby buildings. Conceived as a school, it became in turn a private home, then a hotel-restaurant, and finally a monastic guesthouse, and has remained as ill-suited to its current use for the past 70 years. Each generation has tried to improve and adapt it, removing, reopening, closing, trying to make the most of a somewhat strange building.

Originally, this house was part of a series of more or less coherent constructions, due to the munificence, charity and piety of the Marquis and Marquise de Stacpoole, who bought the abbey in 1863: the monumental gate, the small gate of the former cemetery, the so-called lichgate, the chapels of the parish church, the calvary, the Holy Sepulchre, the cross of the cemetery, erected or fitted out between 1865 and 1881.

The couple bought a plot of land at the corner of the presbytery garden and the cemetery surrounding the church, and in 1869 had a girls’ school built, run by nuns. It is not known which female religious congregation was in charge.

On the parish church side, the school had and still has a marble plaque engraved: “AMDG / Georgii marchionis de Stacpoole / Et / Mariae marchionissae / Sumptibus / Pro puellis instituendis / AD MDCCCLXIX / Orate pro eis”.

The Saint-Joseph school was built at the same time as the Saint-Wandrille town hall (1869), by the same architects, Martin and Marical, of Yvetot. It seems that the town hall had previously used the Nature pavilion, now a guesthouse. At the time, the Marquis wanted to reclaim this pavilion to house his janitor, and to close off the courtyard in front of the Porte de Jarente, in order to “privatize” the entire area to the south of the monastic buildings, the forecourt and the ruins of the abbey church. He then built the monumental gateway (1867) to the town square, with remains of the eastern end of the abbey building, including a sculpted pediment.

On February 16, 1897, after much legal wrangling, the monks regained possession of the abbey.

In 1897, the 4th Duke of Stacpoole was still heir to the old school building, but since he no longer had any ties to Saint-Wandrille, he sold it on April 26, 1897 for 4,000 francs to Mme Augustine Vautier, from Caen, mother of two brilliant and somewhat original young monks, the brothers Henri and René Vautier. She had bought the house as a place to stay when visiting her sons. She arrived for the first time on May 4, 1897, with her maid. The architect Buzy, from Niort, who had been the architect at Ligugé, came in August to carry out “conversion work on the interior of the schoolhouse”, according to the chronicle.
Madame Vautier was joined every spring by other ladies, such as Miss Marie Soudée, a resident of Solesmes and Sablé, and Miss Jores. These ladies worked on the monastery’s altar linens. The habit was established: Madame Vautier made her house available on request to guests, ladies who were obviously unable to stay at the abbey. The reception of ladies was therefore commonplace, but not very organized.

After the monks went into exile in 1901, Maison Saint-Joseph remained the property of Mme Vautier. It housed a number of boxes that had not been removed during the hasty move. As it was a personal property, the house was neither sequestered nor liquidated, especially as it was rented until 1930 to two women from Rouen, Mesdemoiselles Lanchon and Granger, who came to live there every summer, taking care of its upkeep.

During their exile, the monks had several places to stay. From the time of their stay in Conques in 1912, a house was built near the monastery to accommodate the monks’ families on an occasional basis. It was run by a couple, the Daousts, who remained attached to the community for 50 years. . Later, during the exile to Le Réray in the Allier (1924-1930), the “maison des quatre vents”, still run by Madame Daoust, was opened to welcome visiting families. The idea of a guesthouse was born.

In 1930-31, the monks returned to the Norman abbey.
After the death of his mother and brother in 1912, Father René Vautier remained the sole owner of Saint-Joseph House. The Daoust couple, who always followed the community, moved in. It became the Saint-Joseph guesthouse. Madame Daoust occasionally welcomed families of monks for a few days, or permanent guests such as Madame Gontard, mother of the Father Abbot, who died there, or a pious and original Oblate like Eve Lamotte.

In 1936, Père Vautier sold the house to the Société immobilière de Saint-Wandrille, which later became the Association des amis de Saint-Wandrille. In 1993, after its legal recognition, the Société immobilière de Saint-Wandrille handed the house over to the community, along with the entire property.

From then on, Madame Daoust gradually became a “boarding house”, housing workers who came to work on the restoration of the abbey, and even more so from 1940, after the fire at the Caudebec hotels and the lack of hotels in the region. Madame Daoust’s retirement in 1957 was not without its problems.

After the departure of the Daoust couple, and an interlude of a few years, Father Raymond Trancard became the official manager of the Saint-Joseph guesthouse in 1963, becoming a member of the Confédération française des hôteliers restaurateurs, cafetiers et limonadiers.

Abbot Dom Ignace Dalle, elected in 1962, could not help but notice the increase in demand for retreats at the abbey, from both men and women. Rather than take on lay managers, as previous years had shown their drawbacks, Dom Dalle wanted nuns to take charge of the outside guesthouse.

He called on the oblates of Saint Benoît des Thibaudières, in Chadurie, Charentes, to run the Saint-Joseph guesthouse. They ran the Saint-Joseph guesthouse for almost ten years, but had to stop in November 1973 due to a lack of recruits.

Father Abbé Levasseur set out again to find another congregation willing to take on the task. On April 4, 1974, the sisters of Saint-Joseph de Cluny arrived. They stayed until November 5 1980, a total of six and a half years. It is because of their presence that a relic of Mother Javouhey, their foundress, has been placed in the altar of Notre-Dame de Caillouville.

After the departure of the nuns, the plan was to no longer remain a “hotel restaurant”. The rooms and kitchen were renovated. The business was closed on December 31, 1981.
Saint-Joseph becomes a guesthouse as such.

In 1986, the house underwent a complete reorganization to enable it to be run as efficiently as possible by a monk, assisted by two local ladies.