The Abbey of Sixt Fer à Cheval
The retreat of the Giffre glacier up to Mont Ruan, more than twelve thousand years ago, gave birth to the valley as we know it now. Thriving on an abundance of sun and water, lush vegetation overtook the valley, thus providing shelter for wildlife and delaying the arrival of Man for a long time. Even though Burgond graves were found in a neighboring village of Samoëns, the valley of Sixt Fer à Cheval seems to have been occupied in a permanent manner only since the twelfth century.
In 1130, Aymon, lord of Faucigny, gave the whole territory constituting our district (commune) to the Abbey of Abondance. One of Aymon's brothers, a novice at Abondance at that time, was appointed to build a new abbey on this land. The abbey buildings were erected in 1144 after quite a few vicissitudes. Ponce de Faucigny became the first Abbot of this monastery governed by the rules of Saint Augustine, just like those of Abondance and Saint-Maurice d'Agaune in the Valais.
Henceforth independent, the new abbey had to settle its relationship with its parent abbey. This was done by 1160-61, Abondance was to keep some control over its subsidiary and its abbey elections. Several Bulls from the popes Adrien 1st and Alexandre lll, which originals are kept in the parish archives, confirmed these arrangements.
From then on, the abbey was to take the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the surrounding villages. In 1167, one of its missions was to ensure the worship in Samoëns' neighboring village. The Abbey’s temporal goods always stayed modest and its running required constant attention. Up to the Revolution, the abbey received two thirds of the income of Samoëns' tithes, which was quite significant. 33 Abbots succeeded one another at the head of this Abbey that exerted its influence over the valley of Haut Giffre until the Revolution.
After this serie of conventual Abbots who were usually native from the region, commendatory Abbots appointed by the monarch were sent to Sixt and its discipline somewhat slackened. When Saint François de Sales came to Sixt in 1603, he was to find an atmosphere of comfortable dereliction. It took the Bishop fifteen years of effort to impose his authority and have new constitutions accepted.
During its history, the Abbey lay the foundations of the agropastoral civilization that enabled, as it did in many other mountain regions, many generations of Savoyards to live in a rough country and gradually adapt to necessary evolutions. The relationship between the Abbey and the villagers was complex. If they haven't actually cleared the valley, as it has been said a bit hastily to their credit, the canons at least contributed to its development maybe by organizing population transfers in the Middle-Age and in any case, following a well thought-out policy of albergements (feodal long lease of lands).
The taxes collected through "auciège" (feudal tax for the use of high mountain pastures), tithes and premisses were tidy sums, but not deprived of compensation: in return for auciège for example, they took in charge the supplying of moutain stockbreeders. The emancipation of the community took place in 1759 by amicable agreement. Inevitably, the Abbey was swept along, like her sisters, by the great current of 1793. But, despite usual petty quarrels, it seems the canons have not left bad memories in Sixt.
Sold as public property, the monastic buildings were partly purchased by Albanis Beaumont, an engineer willing to revive the mining activity. The other part was turned into the "best inn of the country" in 1821 by the Cochet innkeepers. Bought back at the end of the nineteenth century by the Rannaud family, the Abbey became the Hostel of Fer à Cheval and the Abbey. As it closed down a few years ago, the building was purchased in 2000 by the department of Haute-Savoie, which is planning to make it a place dedicated to the explanation of the complex ties binding the inhabitants of this alpine valley to their environment.
The religious patrimony of Sixt Fer à Cheval also includes the abbey church which oldest part is dated from the mid thirteenth century. The Abbey's treasure is particularly moving, due not so much to the number and richness of the preserved objects but rather the quality, ancientness and fragility of some of them. Chapels and oratories are numerous on the territory of the district and are part of a dynamic program of restoration initiated by the parish.