The priory, founded in 1059 by the powerful Order of Cluny, is the nucleus around which the town will develop. A major stopover on the roads to Santiago de Compostela and an obligatory crossing point on the Loire, the monastery grew rich and quickly played an essential role in the Cluny network. La Charité-sur-Loire became one of the five "eldest daughters of Cluny" and extended its influence over 45 priories and 400 dependencies. In the 12th century, the church of Notre-Dame was the second largest church in Christendom after Cluny, with more than 200 monks living in the buildings, which covered 3 hectares.
The Hundred Years' War, then the Wars of Religion, gradually weakened the city, a strategic place on the Loire between Burgundy and Berry. In 1559, a gigantic fire precipitated the ruin of the monastery, destroying the entire nave, a large part of the priory and the town.
Important works in the 17th and 18th centuries contributed to the rebirth of the town and the priory, the nave was rebuilt with 4 bays instead of the original 10 (important remains are visible on the façade of the Tourist Office, at the entrance to the church). After the Revolution, the priory, sold as a national asset, was integrated into the urban fabric. Some of the buildings were occupied by private individuals and shopkeepers. If the present nave dates from the end of the 17th century, the choir and the transept have kept the architectural elegance of the 11th and 12th centuries. The fame of the church of Notre-Dame is mainly due to the richness of its sculpted decoration, in particular remarkable series of capitals and pilasters, without forgetting two tympanums.
The first, the tympanum of the Virgin, is still in place at the foot of the Sainte-Croix bell tower. In 1840, the second one, the Transfiguration, was moved inside the church, for a better conservation. Prosper Mérimée, inspector of historical monuments, had the church of Notre-Dame classified, thus saving it from destruction since the initial route of the royal road from Paris to Nevers crossed the nave. Since 1998, it has been classified by UNESCO as a "world heritage site for humanity as part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in France" on the Vézelay route
The Priory of La Charité, City of the Word
Since 2001, the Priory of La Charité has been the subject of a vast restoration project, the different areas are gradually being returned to the public who discover them with wonder. The year 2012 brings creation to the monument with the installation of contemporary stained glass windows in the chapter house.
Since 2001, a vast restoration project
2001 - 2004: development of the Benedictine garden and protection of the remains of the Saint-Laurent church
2003-2004: restoration of the eastern façade of the priory
2005-2008: restoration of the ground floor of the east wing of the priory (chapter house, Mérimée room, east gallery of the cloister)
2007-2008 : restoration of the ground floor of the north wing of the priory (18th century rooms and north gallery of the cloister)
2010-2011 : restoration of the envelope of the north wing and development of the cloister
2012 : restoration of the main portal
2015 : restoration of the roofs and structures of the east wing of the priory. Consolidation of the Mérimé passage.
Other worksites are to come: development of the east wing of the priory, development of the courtyard of the castle, resumption of the roofs of the church Notre-Dame.
The City of Art and History and Cultural Encounter Centre labels
In 2011, La Charité-sur-Loire was awarded the Ville d'Art et d'Histoire label. This label recognizes the actions carried out for more than 10 years, and sets new quality requirements for the years to come.
In 2012, La Charité-sur-Loire became a Cultural Centre of Encounter, a rare distinction (15 sites in France) which associates a remarkable site, in this case the priory, with a strong theme, the word and creation, with a quality cultural programme.
Thanks to these distinctions, the site of La Charité, recognized at the national level, gains in notoriety.
The Priory of La Charité, City of Words
The Cité du Mot is a cultural meeting place. Its main objective is to develop, within the Cluniac priory of La Charité, a cultural action in this little explored field: artists' residences, creations, colloquiums, exhibitions, reception of visitors, educational actions..
The priory is open every day from Easter to All Saints' Day, from 9:30 am to 6 pm. (some areas may be temporarily closed to the public in case of shows, scenographic installations, conferences... or with a paying access if an exhibition is taking place there).