Abbey of St Victor

Marseille, France

The Abbey of Saint-Victor is a former abbey that was founded during the late Roman period in Marseille in the south of France, named after the local soldier saint and martyr, Victor of Marseilles.

The crypts of the abbey contains artefacts indicating the presence of a quarry that was active during the Greek period and later became a necropolis from 2 BC onward until Christian times. In 415, Christian monk and theologian John Cassian, having come from the monasteries of Egypt, founded two monasteries at Marseille: the Abbey of Saint Victor for men and the Abbey of Saint Sauveur for women. Both monasteries suffered from invasions by the Vikings and Saracens, and were destroyed in 838 and 923. In 977, monastic life was restored in the abbey and from the middle of the 11th century its abbots were requested to restore religious life in the surrounding monasteries that had become decadent.

Saint Isarn began construction work in 1020, building the first upper church, tower and altar. The abbey long retained contact with the princes of Spain and Sardinia and even owned property in Syria. The polyptych of Saint Victor, compiled in 814, the large chartulary (end of the 11th and beginning of the 12th century), and the small chartulary (middle of the 13th century), containing documents from 683 to 1336, document the economic importance of the abbey in the Middle Ages.

Blessed Guillaume Grimoard, who was made abbot of Saint-Victor on 2 August 1361, became pope in 1362 as Urban V. He enlarged the church and surrounded the abbey with high crenellated walls. He also granted the abbot episcopal jurisdiction, and gave him as his diocese the suburbs and villages south of the city.

The abbey began to decline after this, especially from the early 16th century, when commendatory abbots acquired authority. In 1648 the échevins (municipal magistrates) of Marseille petitioned Pope Innocent X to secularise the monastery, because of the unsatisfactory behaviour of the monks. The Pope was not willing to do so, but instead had the abbey taken over by the reformist Congregation of Saint Maur.

However, the behaviour of the monks generally did not improve, and after their abysmal showing during the plague of 1720, during which they barricaded themselves inside their walls instead of providing any assistance to the stricken, Pope Benedict XIII secularised the monastery in 1726, converting it into a collegiate church with a community of lay canons under an abbot.

In 1774, it became by royal decree a noble chapter, the members of which had to be Provençals with four noble descents. The last abbot of Saint-Victor was Prince Louis François Camille de Lorraine Lambesc. He died in 1787 and was not replaced before the outbreak of the French Revolution.


In 1794 the abbey was stripped of its treasures. The relics were burned, the gold and silver objects were melted down to make coins and the building itself became a warehouse, prison and barracks. All that now remains of the abbey is the church of St. Victor, dedicated by Pope Benedict IX in 1040 and rebuilt in 1200. The abbey was again used for worship under the First Empire and restored in the 19th century. The church was made into a minor basilica in 1934 by Pope Pius XI.

The remains of Saint John Cassian were formerly in the crypt, along with those of Saints Maurice, Marcellinus and Peter, the body of one of the Holy Innocents, and Bishop Saint Maurontius. The abbey crypt previously held Cassian's remains, along with were previously interred in the abbey crypt, along with the remains of Saints Maurice, Marcellinus, Peter, also has it that it contains the relics of the eponymous martyr of Marseille from the 4th century.



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Founded: 11th century
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Birth of Capetian dynasty (France)

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4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Ana Costa (10 months ago)
This inconspicuous abbey is one of the most beautiful religious buildings in Marseille. The darkness and somberness of the church in this Middle Age religious building is interrupted by the magnificent ethereal and colourful light that comes through the stained glass in the morning. They have several masses in French and some in Arabic.
aaron gatt (11 months ago)
Nice medieval monastery. Unfortunately there are some restoration works going on on the facade but its still open. I'd recommend paying the 2 euro fee to enter the crypt. Its pretty big.
Josh Walklin (12 months ago)
The Abbaye is beautiful, dark, and peaceful. A note for tourists: the crypt had a 2€ entrance fee and the caretakers do NOT take card payments. Was really looking forward to seeing it, a little modernisation is needed to ensure that the tourist continue to spend their money with you.
Emmanuel Gustin (15 months ago)
The abbey church has a fine atmosphere to it, dark and subdued. Clearly in need of restoration as netting has to protect visitors from falling stones! The famous crypt can be visited for two euros, and is worth a look, although it is humid. Very interesting place, but as it is now presented, not worth a long detour.
André Morys (21 months ago)
Amazing place, ancient caves from 4th century… much more impressive than any other church here
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