The History of the Prieuré
The Prieuré building, or the Priory, was purchased in auction by the MacJannets in 1958. Long a part of the history of Talloires, it was founded in the 10th century and part of the Benedictine Abbey at Savigny near Lyon. Until the French Revolution the area was part of vast religious holdings and the Prior was the largest local landowner. During the medieval period the Prieuré's decadence mostly outweighed its religious fervor. The reaction against the abuse involved destruction to the building during the French Revolution. (Read a more detailed description here.)
The Prieuré passed from owner to owner until 1958 when it was purchased by the MacJannets. According to Charlotte, one of the reasons they bought the old and rather ruined building was to provide a hobby for Donald. She knew he would need something to do with his time. (Charlotte describes the state of the Priory when they first bought it.) The appeal of the location, near their home in Geneva and on the shore of Lake Annecy where the MacJannet Camp was situated, was one of the main reasons they bought the building. They spent the next few decades repairing and rebuilding the structure. Much of the work Donald undertook himself. They also found help in unlikely places. Donald and Charlotte hired some Italian workers who were working in Geneva during the week but happy to earn more money on the weekends at the Prieuré. (Listen to the story here.)
Innovations with such designs as the entrance floor, a mosaic constructed of unwanted pieces of marble and plaques from a nearby church, remain as evidence of Donald's ingenuity. As they were simply going to be disposed of, Donald arranged for the whole lot of them to be delivered to the Prieuré. They pieces were then arranged on the floor. (Hear the story of the Prieuré floor.) The electrification was done by Donald also, late in his life. The entire building stands as a testimony to his spirit and his belief in manual labor and hard work from which he did not shirk.
The possession of the Prieuré provided the setting for the realization of many MacJannet ideas. The building hosted such events as the Eutonia courses taught by Charlotte's friend, student and colleague, Gerda Alexander. World Youth events which brought together young men and women from the globe over celebrated the MacJannets hope for international understanding. The World Health Organization held international conferences. In 1968, the first Entretiens de Talloires were held. Organized mostly by Charlotte, the Entretiens aimed at gathering people from the world over to discuss various topics. In 1990, the Declaration of Talloires asserted the commitment of scholars to environmental sustainability in higher education (more information).
In 1978, the MacJannets envisioned the next step for the Prieuré under the direction of Tufts University. Donald and Charlotte donated the building in order to ensure the continuation of the property as a place of learning, international understanding and usefulness.
By 1982 the Prieuré was being used as the MacJannets envisioned it by Tufts. Charlotte MacJannet writes in March of that same year: "we are considering going to Talloires at the end of April because meetings at the Prieuré are starting at the beginning of May. The entire ground floor of the Prieuré is being turned into classrooms, lighted and heated, so that undergraduate work can go on there whilst international meetings are taking place upstairs. We are very happy that our dream to make the venerable old building serve has become reality. "1
- Charlotte MacJannet to Ruth Mary Gilfillan, March 9, 1982, MS024/001-139#9