Pontigny lies 25km east of Joigny, and has a beautifully preserved twelfth-century Cistercian abbey church, standing on the edge of the village. There’s no tower, no stained glass and no statuary to distract from its austere lines, though the sombre effect is somehow compensated for by the seventeenth-century choir that occupies much of the nave.
Three Englishmen played a major role in the abbey’s early history, all of them archbishops of Canterbury. Thomas Becket took refuge from Henry II in the abbey in 1164, before moving to Sens in 1166; Stephen Langton similarly hid here during an argument over his eligibility for the primacy from 1207 to 1213; finally, Saint Edmund of Abingdon retired here in 1240, after unsuccessfully trying to stand up to Henry III. Saint Edmund’s relics lie in a seventeenth-century tomb inside the abbey.