The magnificent Payerne Abbey is the largest Romanesque church in Switzerland. The frescoes, capitals, the stature of the archways, and the "blondness" of the stones create a unique atmosphere.
As it is often the case, the first monastery, built in around 950 AD, was constructed on the walls of Carolingian buildings. Becoming a Cluniac priory (obeying the rule of St. Benedict of the Cluny monastery in Burgundy), it underwent rich development. It was raised to the rank of abbey in the 15th century, under the authority of the House of Savoy.
With the Reformation and the arrival of the Bernese, the monks were driven out and the convent buildings were used for various non-religious purposes: granary, warehouse, workshop, barracks, foundry, archives room and gymnastics room. The abbey, "the most spectacular vaulted religious building in Switzerland", became a historic monument in the late 19th century.
It is a Romanesque building supplemented with numerous late Gothic elements, and houses frescoes from the 11th and 12th centuries. Magnificent capitals adorn the columns. The admirable clarity of the interior, rare for Gothic monuments, derives from the windows in the side aisles and the colour of the stones used. The high pillars give a majestic volume to the ensemble.
The abbey is constantly renovated and maintained. Archaeological digs revealed the presence of a major cemetery (several hundred tombs) under its floor.
Since 1870, some of the convent buildings have been occupied by the Musée de Payerne, dedicated to fine arts. The abbey forms a beautiful architectural ensemble alongside the neighbouring parish church, the 16th century town hall and the Bernese castle.
It has been discovered that the famous "will of queen Berthe", naming her as the founder of Payerne, is in fact a fake, created by monks. These papers allowed the monks to grant themselves more rights than they actually possessed.
The church is actually closed to the public for renovations. Guided tours are organised.