Saint-Michel de Grandmont Priory was built in the 12th century and is one of the best-preserved of the 160 Grandmontine monasteries. It is a religious order, founded by Étienne of Thiers, son of Viscount of Thiers from the Auvergne. It was known to be one of the strictest, and austere orders of the Middle Ages. There was no hierarchy, with no archives, and no heating. The monks walked with bare feet, in perpetual silence. They ate no meat, and fasted regularly. As they worked, they engaged in silent prayer. Theirs was the first order to be permitted to beg for food.
By 1772 the Grandmontaine Order had dwindled in popularity, and was eventually dissolved, and the Priory was absorbed into the Diocese of Lodève. Two monks remained in the Priory until their deaths in 1785.
After the French revolution, the priory passed into the hands of a local merchant family, who developed it as a home, and agricultural estate. From 1849 to 1936 it was owned by the Vitalis family, who were cloth manufacturers. Etienne Vitalis restored the buildings, making them fit for habitation, and wine production. In 1957 it was bought by the Bec family, who owned a local engineering firm. In 1980 the Priory was classed as a historic monument, and opened its doors to the public.
The Priory of St Michel de Grandmont is the only surviving building from the order of Grandmont. The group of buildings includes a church, a Romanesque cloister surmounted by a pinnacle, and a chapter house and cellar.References:
Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.
Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.
The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.