Montmajour Abbey

Arles, France

Montmajour Abbey was a fortified Benedictine monastery built between the 10th and 18th centuries. Until the late Middle Ages, Montmajour was an island, 43 meters above the surrounding terrain, protected by marshes and accessible only by boat. As early as the 3rd millennium BC the island was used as a cemetery, with individual graves carved into the rock. In the 9th and 10th centuries the island also served as a sanctuary for the local residents during invasions of the Saracens and the Normans. During the Middle Ages, several legends arose about Montmajour and its founding. One legend said that the island had been the sanctuary of St. Trophimus, who had been sent from Rome by St. Peter to convert the Gauls. After coming to Arles in 46 AD, he took shelter in one of the caves on the island and received disciples there.

In 949 a Frankish noblewoman, Teucinde of Arles, acquired the island from the Archbishop of Arles, and left it in her will to a group of hermits already residing on the island, with instructions to create a monastery following the Rule of St. Benedict. Pope Leo VIII raised it to the status of an abbey in 963. The first abbey church of was built between 1030-69. The second abbey church was built, possibly on the site of the previous one, in the 12th century. The abbey was at the peak of its influence and wealth.

The 14th century was the age downturn in Montmajour. in 1348 the Black Plague reduces by half the population of Provence. The Free Company, armies of French soldiers left unpaid after the defeat of France by the English army at Poitiers during the Hundred Years War, ravaged the countryside in 1357. It was pillaged again by marauders in 1357, and by the soldiers of Raimond de Turenne of Les Baux, who wage war against Arles from 1386 to 1398. The Abbot of Montmajour, Pons de L'Orme, then fortified the monastery with a massive tower.

During the Wars of Religion in 1593, the abbey was occupied by soldiers of the Catholic League, and the monks were forced to move to Arles for two years. When they returned, they monastery was ruined. In 1786 the abbey was officially secularized.

Buildings

Built in the 12th century, the Notre Dame abbey-church is characteristically representative of Romanesque buildings. The buildings, including the chapter house, the refectory, the pantry, the library and the kitchen, can be reached by way of the cloister, restored in 1872.

St. Peter's Chapel is the oldest existing part of the abbey, probably built between 1030 and 1050. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was built to contain the most valuable relic of the abbey, a piece of the True Cross. It is located a few hundred meters from the abbey church, outside the monastery walls, to provide the monks with greater separation from the crowds of pilgrims.

The ruined Maurist Monastery was built in the classical Piranesian style on a huge scale; the building was originally five stories high, covering eight thousand square meters, with sixty windows and two grand staircases. The monks, lay brothers and novices lived on the top two floors, with their library, classrooms and archives. The building was largely demolished after the French Revolution for its building materials.

The rocky slope near St. Peter's Chapel has more than a dozen tombs cut into the rock in the shape of human bodies, with places for the head, shoulders and feet. The more recent tombs (14th century) were rectangular, and were probably covered with stone slabs.

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Address

D17, Arles, France
See all sites in Arles

Details

Founded: 963 AD
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Frankish kingdoms (France)

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Philip Houckham (4 months ago)
Interesting history of France 6euro entry.
K London (5 months ago)
Stunning place! Very well worth the visit when passing through!
Benjamin Hirsch (5 months ago)
Very nice monastery, must see
Ruben de Rooij (5 months ago)
Very nice abbey just outside Arles. Worth the visit.
Graham Gibbs (5 months ago)
Breathtakingly large but easy to navigate in a short amount of time. A must stop!
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