A Millennial for Tufts

The Tufts European Center, once part of a thriving Benedictine monastery at the foot of the French Alps, marks a historic year

Talloires priory building seen from above

For John Kodis A81, memories of the Tufts European Center in the village of Talloires, France, are inseparable from the awe evoked by the building that houses it, an eleventh-century former Benedictine priory.  

Kodis, a staff member there for four years, arrived the day after his graduation, a time when the Tufts European Center was coming into its own. At that point, classrooms were taking shape on the ground floor and the main hall, with a well-preserved caisson ceiling, had begun serving as a space for meetings and special lectures.

“It was fascinating,” Kodis said, to be standing in the priory and reflecting on how monks once trod its smooth stone steps. “You realize you’re in a place of incredible beauty and antiquity—and you realize how fortunate you are to be there.”

This year that antiquity takes center stage. The Tufts European Center is not just celebrating its fortieth year of operation, but also another anniversary: a millennial.

It was a thousand years ago, with the Charter of 1018, that Queen Ermengarde, wife of King Rudolphe III of Bourgogne, gave the domain of Talloires and its surrounding lands to the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Martin in Savigny near Lyon, formally establishing the Monastery at Talloires. In July 1792, the French Revolution put an end to the religious order. Angry mobs destroyed the church, its vast treasures, and the 700 years of historic records kept by the monks.

That might have been the end of the priory’s productive life, but for an enterprising Tufts graduate. Donald MacJannet, A1916, H70, a passionate international educator, purchased it at auction in 1958, and began to restore and renovate the ancient building. He saw its potential as a place where people could come together to study, exchange ideas, and work towards building a better society.  In 1978, he donated to the priory to the university, and one year later, Tufts inaugurated the Tufts European Center.  

Each summer the Tufts European Center’s summer courses that take full advantage of the region’s history and natural beauty of the French Alps. George Ellmore, a Tufts biology professor, leads a popular class on alpine botany, where students are likely to share a mountain path with alpine cows, whose milk is used to make the local Savoie cheese.Each summer the Tufts European Center’s summer courses that take full advantage of the region’s history and natural beauty of the French Alps. George Ellmore, a Tufts biology professor, leads a popular class on alpine botany, where students are likely to share a mountain path with alpine cows, whose milk is used to make the local Savoie cheese.
Today, the Center is flourishing. Each year, the center organizes three summer academic programs: Tufts in Talloires, a six-week program that brings Tufts and other university students to Talloires to take credit-bearing Tufts courses; Tufts in Annecy, a month-long French language immersion program for college students and adults; and Tufts Summit, a college-level program for high school students that features courses international relations and French language. The European Center also organizes and hosts diplomatic, scientific, and educational meetings and seminars that bring people from around the world to the priory.

“The center is an unbelievable resource for the university—for our students, faculty, alumni, and guests who study and attend conferences here from around the world,” says Gabriella Goldstein, J84, director of the European Center. “Our purpose being here has never been clearer: we preserve the values of goodwill, cultural open-mindedness, and curiosity about the world. To inherit and promote those values is important.”

Beginning this spring with a small event on the Medford campus, the European Center is celebrating its millennium at the priory in Talloires all summer long.  A program of concerts, films, and lectures has been organized in close coordination with the village of Talloires to highlight and celebrate this thousand-year anniversary. Tufts students and faculty attending summer programs at the European Center were also part of the millennium celebrations.

Its reach goes beyond 2018, too. Bruce Hitchner, a professor of classics, along with colleagues at the university, are now starting to bring together all the documents that chronicle the history of the monastery on a new online platform called the Talloires Abbey Digital Humanities Project. It will make publicly available all historical and archaeological documentation on the monastic community and Talloires.  

“The priory is a core element of the monastery as it functioned,” said Hitchner. “As a university charged with its stewardship, we must maintain its integrity as a historic monument.”  

The project, funded in part through a Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life fellowship, will contribute to Tufts’ mission of civic education and civic engagement with the community of Talloires, said Hitchner. He will speak about the work at the Tufts Global Reach Talloires event, September 21-23, and also participate in a colloquium organized by the Millennium Association of Talloires.

“We’re unusual in that we’re an American university that has a standing relationship with a community in eastern France,” said Hitchner. “The European Center has an important role as a member of the community—supporting the social, cultural, and economic life of Talloires. Participating as an academic partner in the study of the Priory’s origins provides another opportunity to deepen our relationship with the village.”

In essence, it’s also an idea that brings the priory full circle, as it builds on one of the sacred tenets of the monastery—to protect and advance not only the life of the spirit, but of the mind, he said. 

“The European Center is such a wonderful academic setting,” Hitchner said. “It’s the kind of place where people really learn—they can study, think, contemplate, be open to new ideas. I think that’s because it’s so stable, healthy, and beautiful. It remains a unique place in the world, and an important part of who we are as a university.”

For more information about the European Center, visit their website.

For more information on the lives, philosophy, and impact of the MacJannets, visit The MacJannet Legacy at Tufts University Digital Archives and Collections.  

Talloires will also be celebrated during the Tufts alumni weekend program Tufts Global Reach Talloires September 21-23. For more information, go here.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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