HistoryArche de Saint-Antoine is part of the "Community of the Ark", a group of communities, the first of which was founded in 1948 by Lanza del Vasto. Lanza del Vasto is an Italian philosopher and poet who travelled to India in 1936 to meet Gandhi: he took inspiration from the non-violence philosophy that Gandhi defended and discovered the ashrams he had created.
After his return to Europe and based on his discoveries in India, Lanza has created, with a group of people, the first Community of the Ark in France: this community, like all the other communities of the Ark, is characterized by a strong commitment to non-violence.
Over the next two decades, several other Communities of the Ark were created, in France and around the world (Switzerland, Argentina, Germany, Italy...).
In 1987, about twenty people from the Community of the Ark of Bonnecombe, in South of France, settled in a building of the former abbey of Saint-Antoine, East of France, to create the Arche de Saint-Antoine.
Much work has been performed to restore the 6.000 m² building and create apartments for all families, bedrooms for the reception house, rooms for group activities...
Currently, about 50 people (including children) live in this community which has chosen a simple life with sharing and spiritual deepening.
Food production from organic agricultureThe community of Arche de Saint-Antoine owns several adjoining lands which makes it possible to grow the vegetables, fruits and aromatic herbs necessary to feed its members and all hosts received during the training sessions.
In total, around 2 hectares of market gardens and orchards are cultivated using production methods that respect the environment: all surfaces are mulched, natural fertilizers (manure) are used...
In the kitchen, all meals, which are entirely vegetarian, are homemade and mainly cooked with local products: around 70% of the vegetables eaten in the community are thus grown in the gardens.
Many products consumed daily by the group come from the gardens: aromatics herbs harvested in the gardens are used for cooking or to make herbal teas, fruits are used to make jams served for breakfast and to make compotes and juices.
Sourdough bread is made by several members of the community in a wood-fired oven installed in the building.
Protection of cycles of waterFour sources emerge in different places on the community's lands: these sources of drinkable water are gradually drying up and the community is very aware of the preciousness of this resource.
In order to water the market gardens without having to use this water, rainwater collection systems have been installed on the roofs of the sheds built in the garden. Reservoirs for storing water are used to keep rainwater until its use in the gardens.
A new rainwater storage project is also under study: requests for public funding have been made to install storage capacities to keep the rainwater collected on the roofs of the abbey buildings: it would allow significant water savings for the community.
Construction of sustainable buildingsThe community settled in some of the buildings of the abbey of Saint-Antoine: no construction of new buildings had then to be carried out.
On the other hand, the members of Arche de Saint-Antoine must maintain around 6000 m² of buildings for which they are now responsible and strive to do so in a sustainable manner. Due to the important building surface, maintenance work is significant. In addition, the buildings of the abbey are protected as historical monuments, forcing the community to respect additional constraints.
In order to make the building more ecological, an important project of changing the most damaged windows has been launched: this project, which will take place over 6 years and is partly subsidized by the local and regional authorities, will enable to replace 200 windows, which are not anymore cold and humidity-proof. About ten windows date from the French Revolution: one of these windows will be manufactured using old methods, and the other ones will be designed according to this model while respecting current insulation standards.
Support of personal growthOne of the main vocations of the Arche de Saint-Antoine's community is to give people the framework that allows them to work on themselves and resolve their personal blockages. Everyone can thus follow and carry out their own work of interior transformation.
This return to oneself is a springboard to consider their relationship with others in a spirit of non-violence: it enables to accept the others in all their differences and to build relationships based on respect.
The members of Arche de Saint-Antoine have implemented many tools to help everyone moving forward on the path of their personal development and healthy relationship with others. Here are some examples of the tools put in place:
- everyday, a community meditation is offered to everyone: for 20 minutes, it is possible to join, in a seated position and in silence, to suspend all movement and thought, to calm his mind.
- many sharings are offered to members of the community. Spiritual sharings, based on readings of religious texts, allow everyone to express their feelings and needs.
- the choice of the simple life, made by the community, enables to slow down its rhythm of life, to limit its commitments and to eliminate unnecessary distractions, which is conducive to a better concentration on its own development.
- chants are very present in the community: they allow everyone to concentrate, to have a better knowledge of their voice and their breath and to feel connected to the rest of the group.
- silent greetings, performed every morning, consist of an individual greeting with all the participants, through an exchange of glances, hands being joined. This ritual gesture enables, in a very simple way, to welcome the other in a benevolent way and to take care of relationships with others.
- the community attach importance to everyone's training: multiple possibilities are given, to the group as a whole or in an individual way, to get trainings on themes in relation with the community values.
- the community has also chosen to engage in the deepening of its Christian spirituality: it allows all members to nourish their personal reflections and helps in the journey towards a better knowledge of themselves and their place on Earth.
In addition to these tools, several members of the community now offer support, face-to-face or remotely, to people outside the community who need listening and guidances, with the objective of sharing the experience acquired by the collective to the greatest number of people.
Respect of cultural traditions
A common rhythm of lifeIn order to organize the community life as well as possible, a rhythm of life has been set up at Arche de Saint-Antoine through precise timetables, serving as points of reference for all. Thus, the day is structured as follows:
- Before 8:30 am: Breakfast
- 8:30 am: Greetings of peace. These silent greetings, through a simple exchange of glances, enable to take care of relationships with others (see the paragraph on "Support of personal growth" above).
- 8:35 am: Peelings. The peelings are a community time where everyone is invited to join in the kitchen to peel all the vegetables that will be consumed during the day. It is a very nice moment, where everyone can get together and discuss the subjects they want with their neighbours in the kitchen.
- 9:40 am: Christian office. The community having chosen to support the Christian identity of its inhabitants, a Christian service is offered every morning, accompanied by chants and readings of prayers and spiritual texts.
- 10 am: Work organization. The community gathers and all team managers indicate their needs: the available people are then allocated according to the needs and go to work until noon.
- 12 noon: Lunch, together, preceded by a blessing.
- 2.15 pm: Meditation. A 20-minute community meditation is offered to community members.
- 3 pm: Work organization, similar to the morning one, to work until around 6 pm.
- 6.30 pm: Evening community prayer. Evening prayer marks the end of the community day, at a spiritual level. Each evening, a prayer is said, in a circle, in connection with a different religious tradition.
- 7 pm: Evening meal, taken in community or with family.
In the evening, many activities are regularly organized: film screenings, debates, dance evenings and others are offered by members of the community.
Throughout the day, mindfulness pauses are performed by the members of the community: every hour is rung by the abbey bell and everybody stop their mental or physical activity for a few-minutes in order to take awareness of the present moment and its immediate sensations.
Celebrations in Arche de Saint-AntoineMany celebrations take place throughout the year in the community. Each of the festivals has its own symbols and its own traditions.
The feasts are important moments for the community: they allow sharing and spirituality to be strengthened, which consolidates the ties in the group.
Four major Christian feasts, evenly distributed throughout the year (as they correspond to solstices and equinoxes), are of great importance for the community. They all share common points such as reconciliation, which takes place before each party (for more information, see the paragraph on "Use of communication skills, conflict facilitation" in the section Social), the practice of chants (specific to each holiday) and everyone's clothing in white.
The four religious festivals are:
- Saint-Michael, celebrated at the end of September, celebrates the work accomplished during the past year, the results of which can be observed during the harvest. It is also the return from summer holidays, allowing the reception of new trainees joining the community for a full year.
- Christmas is an essential holiday for the community, which is open to the inhabitants of the village and to the families of all inhabitants. On Christmas Eve, a Christmas-themed theatrical performance is presented by the community members. A mass is then celebrated, followed by dances shared by all. A gift exchange is also done: to do so, everyone draws the name of a person to whom they will have to give a handmade gift.
- Easter: a vigil around the paschal fire is organized, followed by a mass and then dances. The next day, an egg hunt is scheduled for all children.
- Midsummer's Day is a key feast for the communities: it is indeed the moment when each one takes stock of his spiritual life for the past year. The commitments of all the community companions are renewed. The commitments of the new hires are made at this time and the applicants are officially integrated into the community (for more information, see paragraph about "Respect of diversity and development of a community vision" in the Social section).
The next day, a ceremony is organized, during which the commitments of all members are renewed. The traditional jump over the Midsummer fire follows.
Other feasts are also celebrated at Arche de Saint-Antoine:
- the women's day, organized by the men of the community in honour of the women, and conversely the men's day, consist of a festive evening with entertainment, meals, dances ...
- Gandhi Day, celebrating the anniversary of Gandhi's death, is a day of silence and fasting. Meditations and manual manufacturing workshops are organized during this day.
Involvement to protect communities and nature
A demonstration that another way of living together is possibleAs members of the Community of the Ark, the inhabitants of Arche de Saint-Antoine are committed to implementing non-violence in their daily lives and to promoting it.
For all the members of the Ark, non-violence is a tool for personal transformation allowing profound societal transformations: the community thus wants to show, by example, that another way of living in society is possible.
As soon as the community moved into the abbey buildings, one of the first concrete projects implemented was the creation of a reception house. Hospitality is indeed the main activity of the community with around 4000 people welcomed each year. About a hundred groups are welcomed every year for workshops and trainings on a wide variety of themes, oriented around the personal development.
Individuals and families are also welcomed and can stay in the community without participating in a specific training: they have the possibility, for those who wish, to join the activities of the collective.
The communities of the Ark have, during their history, swarmed several times: part of their communities have sometimes decided to separate from the original community in order to form a new one in a new place. The Arche de Saint-Antoine is an example: it was the result of a spin-off from the community of the Ark of Bonnecombe, of which twenty of its inhabitants decided in 1987 to create a new community in Isère.
The community of Saint-Antoine has never yet swarmed, although its capacity to welcome new members is limited by the size of the buildings which are not expandable. The number of permanent members living in the community remains more or less constant over time, with the arrival of new inhabitants regularly compensating for the departures, which explains why the community has never yet spread.
The members of the community who decide to leave the group to embark on new life projects are, on the other hand, a way of spreading and disseminating the way of life of the community.
The FEVEIn 2010, a new project called Fève, for Formation et Expérimentation au Vivre-Ensemble in French that we could translate as "Training and Experimentation in Living Together", was set up by the community. Its objective is to transmit, share and encourage the practices and experiments of living together which promote a transition towards a resilient, respectful and benevolent society.
Various training sessions are organized throughout the year: they allow people starting collective projects to be trained to establish better human relations and cooperation in their group, by addressing very diversified themes.
As the training takes place most of the time in the community, it allows participants to experience and immediately put into practice what they learn during the trainings.
Celebration of life and diversity through artArt, and more particularly chant and dance, play a very important role in community life.
Every day, the members of the community are invited to sing together: it is a powerful tool for refocusing, allowing everyone to get to know each other better and bring unity to the group.
The opportunities to sing are numerous: chants are shared every day during prayers, during community meetings or sharings, or during community festivals. For example, when a member of the community leaves the community (for holidays, for example), the community sings in honour of the person at the end of the evening prayer.
Every two weeks, a one-hour chant workshop allows the community members who wish to learn or revise chants and work on their voice and breath. Religious fests celebrated in the community are also an opportunity to sing specific songs: training sessions are organized before the festival to prepare the inhabitants for the chants.
The community also practices a lot of folk dances from various regions of the world: every week, a training session allows you to learn and revise the steps, in a very jovial atmosphere, and a Saturday dance evening is generally organised, allowing everyone to dance together the learned dances.
Reconnection with natureThe community is located in the medieval village of Saint-Antoine-l'Abbaye, surrounded by many natural spaces where it is possible to go for a walk and connect with nature. The village straddles the hills of Isère and Drôme, offering very hilly landscapes.
The Vercors massif is located just an hour's drive from the community and on sunny days, the massif is visible from the windows of the buildings, offering grandiose views and a very refreshing living environment.
Guarantee of equitable ownership of land and resources
Associative ownership of buildings and landThe community of Saint-Antoine settled in part of the buildings of the former Abbey of Saint-Antoine belonging to the Fathers of the Holy Family and which had been unused for about fifteen years.
The buildings were passed on to the Compagnons de l'Arche association: the community buildings and lands are therefore the property of the association and there is no individual property within the community.
In the first years following the installation of the community, significant investments had to be done, in particular to bring the buildings up to safety standards: donations and loans from many people and public subsidies enabled to cover the cost of this important work.
The common fundThe companions of the community have made the choice of a simple life: they must therefore live only with the means provided by the community, even if they have their own property and their own savings.
In 1997, for purposes of justice and education in keeping a budget for children, a common fund was set up at Arche de Saint-Antoine. The companions and postulants, who work as employees or on a voluntary basis for the community, donate their income (salaried members donate their salaries, retirees donate their pensions) into a community fund.
The income is then redistributed to all members in the form of a personal and family budget: this budget, paid out once a month and doubled twice a year for Christmas and summer holidays, is based on very precise criteria (number of dependent children, number of ancestors...). Its amount is around 200 euros per person per month, to allow everyone to make their personal purchases (travel, clothes, etc.).
Accommodation, food as well as electricity, telephone and gasoline costs are covered by the collective.
A solidarity budget is also in place in order, among other things, to participate in the health expenses of community members, like an insurance company could do.
Wealth creation through sharing and collaborationThe inhabitants of the community do not have a professional activity outside the community, so they can fully devote themselves to community tasks and to welcoming the guests of the reception house.
Each inhabitant is responsible for one or more tasks: some are in charge of the garden, others of the administration, etc.
In addition to this, a distribution of tasks is made twice a day: every day, the members of the community meet at 10 am and 3 pm. The workforce needs are first expressed by the activity managers, the available people are then assigned to the different needs according to the desires and constraints of each.
From the age of 65, any member of the community has the option of withdrawing from the community responsibilities: people then generally decide to take responsibility for less physical tasks.
Responsible production, consumption and tradeHospitality is the main activity of Arche de Saint-Antoine: the common economy is therefore mainly based on this activity.
In 2020, the Coronavirus crisis prevented the holding of many training sessions, which greatly reduced the number of nights spent in the reception house, depriving the group of a large part of its usual income.
In order to limit the community's dependence on a single source of income, a reflection was launched in the community in order to diversify its economic activities and thus increase its resilience.
Several avenues of reflection are currently being studied: for example, a shop is installed in the community to allow all guests to buy various items produced by the community or in relation to its objectives. The development of this store is being studied in order to be able to get greater benefits from it.
In its search for more simplicity and consistency in its daily life, the Communities of the Ark have often carried out economic activities close to the earth, manual and artisanal. Arche de Saint-Antoine wants to develop this type of activity: the cultivation of many aromatic plants in the gardens of the community allows the sale of many herbal teas.
A spinning and weaving workshop is also being created, with the aim of selling the products that come from this workshop.
Respect of diversity and development of a community vision
Common values shared in the communityThe inhabitants of Arche de Saint-Antoine, as members of the communities of the Ark, share its common values and directions.
The Arche charter details the values to which all its members concur with:
Following Gandhi and Lanza del Vasto,
members of the communities of the Ark make the choice of non-violence that is rooted in work on oneself and spiritual research.
- to open up to service and sharing,
- to live simply,
- to respect all that lives,
- to act for justice and peace by non-violent means.
In addition to these common values, the community of Saint-Antoine has chosen to add more specific values, which are:
- "The work of rebuilding the person": the community is committed to enable a daily inner work of transformation.
- "Work on the relationship": each member of the community must learn to live with the other and to respect the differences between each.
- "Welcoming pilgrims of our time": respecting the tradition of the Abbey of Saint-Antoine, which has received many pilgrims over the centuries, the community welcomes all pilgrims seeking to give meaning to their life or to enrich their spiritual life.
- "The deepening of Christian spirituality": the community of Saint Anthony has chosen to affirm the Christian spirituality of its members through prayers, times of retreat and celebrations. On the other hand, each one remains free of his personal spiritual commitment and the community is not attached to a specific church.
- "The transmission of our values and our experiences": the community wants to give itself the means to transmit the results of what is experienced in the community on a daily basis.
The engagement, a moral contract to respect the common values
The engagementThose engaged in the community of Saint-Antoine, also called companions and companions, are people who commit to living, in their daily lives, the founding principles of the Community of the Ark and the specific values of the community of Saint-Antoine.
Engagement is a wish that can be considered in the long term, although it is renewed each year during the Midsummer festival, in order to be able to respect the evolutions of each one. During this feast, celebrated at the time of the summer solstice, everyone is invited to take stock of their spiritual life for the past year and renew their engagement for a new year.
Engagement brings different rights (including the right to live long term in the community, to participate in decision-making and community activities, to deepen Christian spirituality) and involves duties (working to meet the needs of the community, actively participating in the community life, assume individual and collective responsibilities, share income with others...).
The postulantIn order to be able to become a community companion, people must realize a postulant that will lead them, in the long term, to a possible engagement in the community of Arche de Saint-Antoine.
To achieve a postulant, a person or a family must apply for it at the end of a long-internship (12-month period spent participating and discovering the community). The postulant request is then examined by the circle of companions, which gathers the members engaged in the community and meets each time an entry or exit from the community is requested. If the request is accepted, the postulant will be initiated and trained, for 3 years, in the different aspects of the community life of Saint-Antoine: practice of non-violence, Christian religious deepening, participation in community life...
From the month of January of the first year of its postulant, the postulant can participate in the meetings of the "heart", a community organization defining the main orientations of the community (for more information on the heart, see the paragraph "Guarantee of participatory leadership and shared governance"): he can express his opinions but has no decision-making power.
The candidate can apply to participate in the common fund (see paragraph on the common fund in the Economy section for more information) from his first year of postulant and must enter it no later than the second year: he is thus involved in the community budget and is fully initiated into the commitment to simple life desired by the community.
At the end of his postulant, the postulant must indicate whether he is ready to engage himself or if he wishes to leave the community: in the event that he is ready to engage, the circle of companions meets to decide the approval or disapproval of the applicant's engagement.
The circle of companions meets for the first time to give a first impression of the postulant's engagement. The decision is only taken at a second meeting, which takes place the following week: if there is unanimity, the decision is immediately validated. If there is not unanimity, the opinion of the minority is listened and the decision is postponed until the following week, leaving time for the minority people to reflect and discuss their opinions. During the next meeting, a second round is taken: if there is unanimity, the decision is validated. Otherwise, the applicant's engagement is not accepted.
The disengagement from the communityDue to his personal evolution or changes in the community, an engaged member may question his engagement. In this case, a time of discernment is given to this companion: during an agreed period of time, the person in discernment will be able to withdraw from community decision-making bodies and take a step back to better analyse his situation: some support will also be provided to help him in the process.
At the end of his time of discernment, the companion can decide to stay in the community or to leave it: in the event that he leaves the community, financial support will be provided to help the former engaged member in this change.
Guarantee of participatory leadership and shared governanceThe Arche de Saint-Antoine community began by taking its decisions by using unanimous consensus, requiring full agreement from all the persons involved. The decision rules then evolved: the consensus method was still used during presentations and discussions of proposals, but some decisions were taken by qualified majority vote, at different percentages which depended on the scope of the decisions.
Since 2015, shared governance inspired by sociocracy has been put in place in the community. This shared governance is based on various decision circles:
- the circle of companions: it gathers all the engaged members and manages the entries and exits of the engaged members of the community.
- the heart: it brings together companions and postulants (the latter having only a consultative voice). It meets every 2 weeks and defines the major community guidelines (launching / stopping of major community projects, modification of community rules, etc.)
- the unity circle: this circle aims at assisting the community leader supervisor in his mandate. It is made up of a coordinator (responsible for the good circulation of information in the community and guarantor of the decision-making process) and 2 companions gathered around the community supervisor. The supervisor, who is elected for 3 years, is responsible for representing the community and is attentive to the well-being and unity of the community.
- the coordination circle: this circle is responsible for the coordination and circulation of information between all the operational commissions of the community. It is also responsible for translating, in concrete terms, the major orientations decided by the heart. The coordination circle meets every second week and is made up of the coordinator and the first and second links of each committee (for more information, see the article on sociocracy).
- the committees: the committees are responsible for the organization and implementation of the functions for which they are responsible. They are in charge of making decisions in relation with their mandate and coordinate the various work teams attached to them. The commissions are:
- the "Reception and Community Training" Commission, responsible for organizing the reception of new people wishing to share a time of life with the community.
- the "Community Life" Commission, responsible for the organization of various community activities.
- the "Reception House" Commission, in charge of organizing the reception of people coming to carry out training or planned events and pilgrims.
- the "FEVE" Commission, in charge of transmitting practices of collective life (for more information, see the paragraph on "Involvement to protect communities and nature" in the Culture section).
- work teams: they carry out the various operational tasks of the community. Many work teams exist and are attached to a commission. Three cross-functional teams, which are not attached to a particular committee, also exist: the work organization team, the finance team, and the communication team.
The organization of these different decision circles can be represented, in a simplified way, as follows:
A community meeting is organized every week with all the community members. It stimulates the transmission of decisions taken in the various circles and allows the presentation of community news to all members. In addition to these formal exchanges, times of sharings and refocusing are organized (chants, mindfulness pauses...) which strengthen the cohesion of the group.
Use of communication skills, conflict facilitationAs indicated previously, one of the main objectives of the Communities of the Ark is to disseminate and promote non-violence.
The Saint-Antoine community is aware that it is not possible to live together on a day-to-day basis without creating tensions and awakening personal wounds that everyone has within themselves: consequently, the community members pay particular attention to promoting the acceptance of the other and its differences.
In addition to the many training courses, both collective and individual, offered by the community and which allow to deepen the knowledge of oneself and relationships to others, the collective has put in place various tools to reduce tensions within the group:
- Peace greetings were presented in the Culture section: they are a peaceful way to take care of relationships with others
- Reconciliations are fundamental times in community life: they precede each of the four major religious festivals celebrated at Arche de Saint-Antoine: all the members of the community participate in the reconciliation ceremony which enables to harmonize relations within the community, to appease differences and re-establish a strong bond between all the members of the collective.
If you are interested in discovering the community of Arche de Saint-Antoine, several solutions are available to you:
- open days are organized every year (generally in September) to discover the community and its activities, through meetings and guided tours. The community news page will allow you to find the date of the next guided tour: here (in French) .
- it is possible to join the community to carry out a community internship in order to discover and share, over a longer period of time, community life. A short internship, lasting up to 2 weeks, will first be offered to you and may then lead to a medium internship of several months. For more information, you can consult this page (in French) .
- you can also come and stay in the community for a few days of vacation, alone or with your family, to simply enjoy the atmosphere of Arche and its surroundings through a free stay. For more information, you can consult this page (in French) .
- sessions and training sessions are organized in the reception house: you will be able to discover the community while following training on the desired theme. To consult the calendar of events, you can consult this page (still in French) .