Abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou

Canigou, France

The abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou is located in the Pyrenees on Canigou mountain near the Spanish border. The original Romanesque style monastery was built from 1005 to 1009 by Guifred, Count of Cerdanya, in atonement for the murder of his son and was populated by Benedictine monks.

In 1049, Guifred, Count of Cerdanya, died at the monastery he had built. In 1051 a messenger set forth to visit religious houses throughout Europe to solicit prayers for his dead master. He brought a parchment upon which at each stop were added words of prayer and respect. This parchment has survived and scholars have used it to discover differences in culture between northern and southern Europe in a single given year. Some of the discoveries from this important document include that southern culture was more staid and bound by custom while the northern culture more free form and experimental in their writing styles, use of words and grammar.

The monastery was damaged in the Catalan earthquake of 1428. It was secularized in 1782 and as abandoned fell into disrepair. During the French Revolution, the abbey was closed, and its contents scattered. The buildings were then transformed into a stone quarry for nearby residents, the capitals of the cloister were looted, as well as sculptures and furniture.

In 1902, the bishop of Elne and Perpignan, because of his Catalan background, began to restore the ruins radically, work that was completed in 1932. Today it is occupied by the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes.

The abbey consists of two churches in the First Romanesque style; the lower church, dedicated to St. Mary, and the upper, dedicated to St. Martin. The lower church is predominantly black, and vault height rarely exceeds 3 meters. The eastern part probably dates back to the consecration of 1009, while the rest of the building dates from the years 1010-1020, in conjunction with work after acquiring the relics of St. Ganders and new consecration of the church.

The upper church was built between the years 1010-1020. Its construction required the strengthening of the columns of the lower church, which were enclosed in square piles. Similar to the lower church, the Saint-Martin church is composed of three naves separated by monolithic columns and barrel vaulted semicircular. The gatehouse is no longer than 19 meters after being damaged in the 1428 earthquake. It was never fully restored. The rest of the convent buildings date from the early 20th century.

Since the restorations of 1900-1920 it is difficult to imagine the original appearance of the cloister. The cloister once had two levels, the first built in the early 11th century and the second to the late 12th century. The lower level, which showed vaulted galleries and semicircular arches was bare of any decoration. Nowadays, there remain only three galleries that have been heavily restored, lacking their original character. The upper level, had marble capitals, which were scattered after the closure of the monastery during the French Revolution. The restoration recovered some, which were incorporated in the new southern gallery.

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Details

Founded: 1005-1009
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Birth of Capetian dynasty (France)

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Magnus Byström (2 years ago)
Beautiful spot, good tours
Pip Toogood (3 years ago)
We've put off visiting the abbey many times because we didn't fancy the long steep climb. In March the weather isn't too hot, so it took less than 30 minutes to get to the top. The abbey tour is a bit long and it's in French, but the guide was charming and spoke slowly so I could follow most of what he said. The abbey is beautiful, but there isn't that much to see - just the cloisters and the abbey church. There are 2 viewpoints - a great view of Vernet les Bains and Canigou, or another steep climb to a wonderful view of the abbey itself. I'm glad I wore hiking boots as the path is slippery and dangerous
María Jesús Sacristán (3 years ago)
Spectacular place within the Nature, in the mountains with sights to a valley. Besides this, the Abbey is amazing Romanic building.
Jan Banan (3 years ago)
Concrete paved road up to the abbey, works for most ages from small to older. Be aware that vehicles may pass on occation as there are trips going to the abbey. A good tip would be to bring rain jacket or umbrella.
Robert (3 years ago)
Fantastic location, nicely restored building, helpful guide, get out and visit it! It is at the to of a steep climb although it is relatively short. There is an option to pay to be transported up on a 4x4 vehicle.
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