The abbot's parlor

Period: gothic

The abbot's parlor, like the adjacent kitchen, is rectangular in plan, but is oriented north-south. Its northern and eastern wall still stand and reveal that the ground floor was originally divided into two rib-vaulted bays. Its floor was originally almost a meter lower than that of the kitchen because the abbot’s room was related to the circulation level in the Gothic cloister rather than to the levels on the exterior. The south wall probably also contained a doorway, but no trace of it remains. The eastern wall contains the frames for two tall lancet windows, today blocked by walling of the Renaissance cloister. The windows are sufficiently recessed to provide benches for seating in front of them and, in fact, the bench area in front of the northern window is worn in a concave shape that confirms the use of the stone shelf as a seat. During the thirteenth century, these windows would have given onto a small open area between the room and the Gothic dormitory 13 meters to the east.

Excavation in the abbot’s room brought to light an elaborate glazed tile floor. The composition of this floor divides into three parts. In the middle, there is a broad “carpet” of tiles composed of panels and half-panels set on the diagonal relative to the longitudinal axis of the room. Each panel of red and yellow tiles is bordered by a single row of green tiles that accentuates the diagonality of the central design. On each side of the central zone, and separated from it by a long row of green tiles, are two long, narrow tile “runners.” The runners are arranged according to the cardinal axes but the individual tiles are set on their “points.” In these two lateral runners, each row of red and yellow tiles alternates with another of green tiles. Despite the fact that the central panels are all squares composed of the same tiles, the composition of the floor is organized around the diagonal. The central panels as well as the rows of tiles forming the two long runners are thus arranged as lozenges and half-lozenges. This diagonality, so well integrated into the composition, animates the floor.

Within the central carpet design, each lozenge is composed of 16 red and yellow tiles. The width of the available space requires an alternation of complete lozenges: 2-1, 2-1, etc. for the length of the room. In each case, the pairs of lozenges contain the same motifs. In several panels, a single motif (such as the fleur-de-lys) repeats 16 times. In others, four tiles are grouped to form four complete motifs, such as four rose patterns each composed of 4 tiles.

Within this arrangement of panels and motifs there is another even more systematic organizing structure. The principal iconographic element of the tile floor includes 3 motifs (dragon, fleur-de-lys and siren) on three tiles that form an integrated three-part composition. This grouping of tiles is repeated four times to create, in a single lozenge, a peripheral composition of twelve tiles. Lozenges containing this composition repeat in pairs at regular intervals over the entire length of the central carpet. The motif is used only once in a single lozenge, and that marks the center of the room. This three-part composition is also used as the frame for all the half-lozenges placed along the sides of the central carpet.

The organizing principles of the tile floor’s composition: tripartite division, diagonality, alternation of panels and borders, and the systematic arrangement of motifs , were widespread ideas in France of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Integration of these principals in a single, harmonious composition like the floor at Saint-Jean is, however, relatively rare and makes this tile floor a remarkable addition to the corpus of such floors.