Valmagne Abbey was founded in 1138 by Raymond Trencavel, Vicomte de Béziers. Valmagne then experienced a time of rapid growth as local landowners bestowed both land and money on the monastery. The buildings were extended and a vineyard of 5 hectares was established by the monks. From the 12th century to the beginning of the 14th century, Valmagne was one of the richest monasteries in southern France and at its peak was home to nearly 300 monks. As the monastery expanded the original Romanesque chapel became cramped so in 1257 permission was granted to build a new church. The new church was constructed over the next forty years in the Gothic style and aside from the removal of the stained glass has changed little since completion.

The Black Death devastated the region in 1348, causing many monks to die and others to flee the abbey. The decline was compounded during the Hundred Years' War when Valmagne suffered attacks and looting by passing mercenaries. As successive abbots were unable to balance the books, many of the abbey's lands and possessions were sold. From 1477 the abbots were appointed from outside the community and this led to a relaxation of the laws of religious life and a decline in the loyalty of the abbot for his abbey. During the French Wars of Religion of the 16th century, the abbey was almost abandoned and in 1575, an attack by Huguenots broke all the windows of the church and caused considerable damage to other buildings, particularly the cloister.

Preservation work was undertaken in the 17th century, and parts of the church were sealed to prevent falls. At the same time the cloister was repaired, but the abbey had fallen into debt and lacked the finance to restore the structures properly, hence many windows in the church were bricked up instead of being re-glazed. By the 18th century, the community was very small and during the French Revolution the abbey was sacked again and furniture, paintings and archives were burned. In 1790, the last three monks left Valmagne taking the few remaining valuable items and the abbey was confiscated. It was sold in 1791 to Monsieur Granier-Joyeuse who converted the church into a wine cave, installing large barrels in the apse and side chapels of the church. On Granier-Joyeuse's death in 1838 Valmagne was acquired by Count Henri-Amédée-Mercure de Turenne and has remained in the same family ever since.

The present Gothic church was rebuilt in 1257 on the foundations of a smaller Romanesque chapel to a traditional plan with a nave and transept, and nine radiating chapels off the semi-circular ambulatory. The nave is preceded by a narthex flanked by two defensive towers.

The groin vaulted cloister of Valmagne surrounds a large garden courtyard, with five large arches on each of the four sides. The chapter house is on the east side of the cloister and is one of the oldest parts of the abbey. It is unusual in that it has a single-span vaulted roof and therefore does not need the internal columns which are typical of chapter houses in other monasteries.

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Details

Founded: 1138
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Birth of Capetian dynasty (France)

Rating

4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Laurent Derijck (14 months ago)
Pretty surroundings, church and lavabo in the cloister. Nice wine to taste!
Jean Luc Devisscher (15 months ago)
Very nice abbaye but unfortunately not much to see inside except for the wonderful church which is also home to some excellent wine. See it to believe it.
David Cox (16 months ago)
Fascinating place to visit. And great wine to taste. Loved it.
Edwin Seijsener (20 months ago)
Very beautiful building, good wines, great story and well kept area
Barnaby Hulbert (2 years ago)
Delightful abbey set between the Montaigne Noire and the curvy Med coast line of the region.We visited for a Christmas fair which was very large and atmospheric being held in such a splendid venue. The abbey was dappled in golden sunlight of autumn. It boasts fantastic cloisters and amazing abbey hall amongst other great features.Fine wine of course. Well worth a visit in it's own right regardless of the event.
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