Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Farnborough Abbey - Burial Place of Napoleon III


Farnborough Abbey, dedicated to St. Michael, is a Benedictine Abbey established in 1881 by the exiled Empress Eugenie of the French as the burial place of her husband Napoleon III and their son the Imperial Prince Napoleon.

Following their exile from France after the fall of the Second Empire to the Prussians, the Emperor and Empress lived in Camden Place, Chislehurst in Kent not far from London. When Napoleon died following surgery in 1873, he was originally laid to rest in St Mary's Church Chislehurst but when her son was killed in 1879 whilst fighting for the British in South Africa during the Anglo-Zulu war, Empress Eugenie realised she needed to find somewhere to build a large mausoleum to their memory. The land in Farnborough was available so she moved to Farnborough Hill House and set about establishing the Abbey, selling her jewels bit by bit to finance the building.

She engaged the French Architect Destailleur who had been commissioned to build Waddesdon Manor for the Rothchilds and used her walking stick to measure out on the ground the size she wanted the building to be.

The church is an extraordinary Gothic creation with large 2m gargoyles almost flying from the building. Eugenie wanted a larger dome on the roof than the one initially designed so a replacement was created with a vase and eternal flame on top to signify that it was a mausoleum. The crypt below contains three large granite sarcophagi given by Queen Victoria who was a great friend of Eugenie. Napoleon III's colours from the Order of the Garter hang over his sarcophagus whilst a golden feather, symbolising martyrdom, lies on top of the Prince Imperial's.

The Benedictines came over from France to live in the Abbey but nowadays only four monks remain in the monastery.

You really need to visit to hear the whole story. Here's a bit more information though. The Abbey is open to the public every Saturday for a guided tour which is fascinating, although it really is cold inside so wrap up warm!. No need to book.

Do zoom in on the photos by clicking them to be able to see the details.

The trees were in the way and the sky was too bright!

You can see the gargoyles here, each one is different.

Bottle-glass windows

This is the monastery part
It wasn't permitted to take photos inside unfortunately. The Abbey does house the National Catholic Library and a renowned organ by Astride Cavaillé-Coll & Company and is the National Shrine of St Joseph.



  1. What a fascinating building. The gargoyles are amazing:)

    1. They looked much bigger when you were actually there too :-)

  2. What amazing history. So fascinating. It looks like a great place to visit! xx

    1. It was very interesting and the last place you expect to find near home. x

  3. Lovely post, thank you. Not sure I would have sold off my jewels, though! x

    1. I don't think my jewels would have gone very far! x