The abbey, in the diocese of Soissons, was founded by Saint Rieul, archbishop of Reims, in the 7th century on land given by King Thierry, son of Clovis II and Bathilde--in Carolingian period it had 92 monks. There are no documents for the start of construction on the existing church, though timber was given to the monks (for construction?) by Count Henry the Liberal in 1165 and an altar was consecrated to the Virgin and Thomas Becket in 1180.
Begun ca. 1190
A basilica intercepted by a projecting transept terminated in east by a five-segment hemicycle. The nave was damaged during the Hundred Years War and progressively demolished after a partial collapse in 1651.
In elevation there are three stories, an arcade supported on cylindrical columns, a dark triforium linked to a tall clerestory. Noteworthy is the juxtaposition of two different building materials a ragged local stone for the exterior and the interior has been articulated in a creamy fine grained limestone.
The substantial parts of the crown of radiating chapels belong to an early stage of construction possibly towards 1170. The original vision was modified around 1200 to give us the present building with its tall superstructure which is dependent on the Cathedral of Soissons while the linked triforium suggest the Bishop's palace at Noyon, the Cathedral of Arras, Saint Remi and Cathedral of Reims.
The abbey church, begun in a local regional mode, was transformed during construction: the tall clerestory and linked triforium--probably refer to to S-Remi of Reims and Soissons Cathedral.
Courajod, L. Le pavage de l'église d'Orbais, Paris, 1876
Héliot, "Deux églises champenoises méconnues. Les abbatiales d'Orbais et d'Essômes," Mémoires de la Soc. d'agriculture, commerce, sciences et arts du département de la Marne, 80, 1965, 87-112
Kline, N. R., The Stained Glass at the Abbey Church at Orbais, Massachusetts, 1983
----, "The typological window of Orbais-l'Abbaye: the context of its iconography", Studies in Iconography, vol. 14, 1995, pp 83-130
Villes, A., "L'ancienne abbatiale Saint-Pierre d'Orbais," Congrés archéologique, 1980, 549-589.