Coat of arms of Lagrasse   Lagrasse
  Officially designated ‘One Of The Most Beautiful Villages In France’, Lagrasse nestles at the confluence of two valleys in the stunning Corbières wine region of the South of France. The village is linked to the 8th century Benedictine abbey to which it owed its original prosperity by two graceful bridges spanning the river. Market Place Carnot
  •  1 - Sainte Marie d’ Orbieu Abbey
  •  2 - Pont Vieux - the old bridge
  •  3 - Place de Halle
  •  4 - Maison du Patrimoine - Heritage House
  •  5 - Picturesque Village
Sainte Marie d’ Orbieu Abbey:
  In a document dating back to the 8th Century, Charlemagne confirmed the foundation of an already established Abbey at Lagrasse. This recognition was decisive as it set in motion a programme of rapid development, that was generated by a succession of large donations coming from rich noblemen, and even the Counts of Barcelona. Sainte Marie d’ Orbieu Abbey
This prosperity made it one of the most important Abbeys in the south of France. Its geographic location between France and Spain provided the Abbots of Lagrasse a crucial role in the political and religious affairs of the south. At some time 25 priories, 67 churches and 91 other locations in the Languedoc-Roussillon region were dependent on Lagrasse...

A charter of Charlemagne, dating back to the 8th century is currently recognized as the founding charter of Sainte Marie d’Orbieu abbey. This document, the oldest about the abbey, is kept at the departmental archives in Carcassonne.

In fact, Charlemagne only confirmed the foundation of an already established abbey. The intervention of the emperor was indeed decisive since from then on; the abbey experienced an extremely quick development generated by a succession of large donations. This prosperity made it one of the most important abbey’s in southern France. Its peculiar geographic location, between France and Spain, provided the abbots of Lagrasse with a crucial role on the political and religious scene in the South.

The donations from the rich noblemen of the region and even from the Counts of Barcelona consisted of lands, villages, castles, churches and monasteries. 6 abbeys, 25 priories, 67 churches in 7 dioceses and 91 localities in the Kingdom of France and in the country of Roussillon were dependent upon Lagrasse at one time or another.

Sixty-four abbots headed the abbey from the Middle Ages to the Revolution. Nebridius, archbishop of Narbonne, was the founder and first abbot. He adopted, for Lagrasse, the Benedictine rule of St Benedict of Nursie. During the 17th century, after a long period of decadence, the abbey was absorbed by the congregation of St Maur. The reform that followed led to an important monastic renewal in Lagrasse. In the 18th century, Armand Bazin de Bezons, bishop of Carcassonne and penultimate abbot, initiated the building of the abbot’s palace and of the current cloister. At the time of the Revolution, only 14 monks remained at the abbey and finally left in 1792.

Sainte Marie d’ Orbieu Abbey

In 1796, the abbey was split and sold in two separate parts. This separation still remains today. In 1896, a religious order founded in the abbot’s palace a home for the aged, which was run until 1975.In 1979, a lay community, the Théophanie, acquired the Abbey (2/3rd of the buildings and the lands) and launched several programs of renovation.

The part that you will visit, to the East (1/3 rd of the buildings) has been, since the beginning of the 20th century, the property of the Médaillés Militaires who ran an orphanage in it until 1981. Nowadays, the Conseil Général de l’Aude is the owner and the township of Lagrasse is renting it. An association manages the shop and the tour: the Foyer d’Education Populaire of Lagrasse.

  Seneschal's House 1. Entrance and shop

2. The garden of the abbot’s palace:

You are now in abbot’s palace built by Auger de Gogenx (1279 – 1309). Two one-storey balconies from the 13th century surround the garden. Romanesque columns and capitals support them. They probably originate from the Romanesque cloister, which was destroyed by the abbot Auger in order to build a gothic cloister.

  The angle column, made out of white marble, in partly engaged in the pillar. The only sculpted capital of the courtyard is attributed to the Master of Cabestany. It represents Lust: you can see grotesque characters with provocative attitudes. You can note on the northern façade of the building a geminate window of the Romanesque period. On the western façade, the semi-circular arch leading to the roofed passage is characterized by a key-stone supported by two clavel-stones. Two one-storey balconies from the 13th century surround the garden of the abbot’s palace.
Water was running out of the fountain, it came from the “béal”, a canal bringing the water from the river Orbieu, two kilometres further, to the abbey. It also ran in the closure of the monastery on a distance of 500 meters.

3. The lower chapel:

This two-storey building is on the southern side of the courtyard. This chapel, which use remains uncertain, has a barrel vault and a rectangular choir. The three doors are ornamented with the arms of the abbot Auger de Gogenx. Two small windows placed high on the southern wall only pierce the thick walls. This room allowed the abbot to go directly from his palace to the monastic buildings. During the 17th century, the cohabitation between the Congregation of Saint Maur and the Benedictines attributed this chapel to the Maurist while the highest chapel remained to the Benedictine.

4. The cellar:

This large hall of 300 m2 was most probably the cellar. Here the number of openings and the great thickness of the walls have been calculated to keep a constant temperature between 12 and 14 centigrade degrees. 
  So the monks could store food and wine.
A part of the food reserves was also stored in the “iceboxes” of the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain). The “iceboxes” were merely holes pierced in the flank of the mountain. The monks alternated sheets of snow and of dead leaves in order to create ice.
The cellar

Usually the meal of a monk was composed essentially of bread and vegetables (cabbage, peas, onions, broad beans and petrocillum, the ancestor of our parsley). They also ate various fishes from the river Orbieu and salted sea fishes.

Although the Benedictine rule forbids clearly eating four footed animals, the archives about Lagrasse inform us that the monks hunt and appreciated some game: roe deer, stags, boars and bears which were seen in the region up to the 18th century.

5. The bakery:

The other hall, much smaller, was the bakery of the monastery. It was equipped with an impressive chimney and a fine water supply system. With this system the monks were able to cook or to wash themselves with hot water. The oven was walled up. Service stairs existed in the south western angle of the room.
The bakery
It allowed the monks and the servants to go in the common rooms of the monastery without passing through the abbots lodging, which was obviously forbidden. Today, these rooms (cellar and bakery) are the village halls. For this reason the floor was heightened of 20 centimetres hiding the original floor of hard packed surface.
6. The sacristy:

Annex of the church where the items for the mass were stored. It was also the place where the priests prepared themselves for the divine service. This room, covered with rib vaults during the gothic period, was enlarged when the Maurist Brothers came (17th Century). They built two additional floors: the first one for the hostel cells and the second one for the infirmary.

7. The Northern transept:

Built in the middle of the 11th Century, it originally opened on three small apses (semi-circular chapels which foundations can still be seen). In the gothic period a straight wall was built along these apses to close them and to support a flat on the first floor (probably for the sacristan in charge of the church care and of the items for the mass).
  The three “new” chapels were then covered with rib vaults. After the coming of the Maurist Brothers, in the 17th Century, this flat became the library of the monastery...
The Northern transept
8. The Pre-Romanesque tower:

Built before the Romanesque style, this tower is the most ancient element of the abbey. It was erected, at the latest, during the 10th century as shown by its exceeding arches on the southern wall. The tower was made of rubble stones; it is situated at the end of the northern transept which extension was therefore limited. Indeed, the northern transept is shorter than the southern one. The intrados of the ground floor door was painted with barbarian characters in red and white. One of them was bearing a Maltese cross (today these painting are almost erased). When the tower still had 3 floors, it housed the clock during the 17th century.

9. The dormitory:

A good example of monastic room, its apparent carpentry is supported by diaphragms arches made of stone. Strong buttresses help these arches outside. During the Hundred Years War, in 1361 this part of the monastery was fortified. Lower arches were added on top of these buttresses, bearing machicolation, battlements and a patrol path. The dormitory is constituted of eight rows, the most northern one having been separated from the others and added to the abbot’s lodging.

The dormitory
This hall of generous dimensions (50mx8m) suggests the large number of monks living at the abbey during certain periods, especially during the 13th century. Up to a hundred monks according to the archives. The eight diaphragm arches support a recent structure because the former owner, M. Berlioz, had removed the first carpentry in order to avoid repairing it.

Diverse architectural details allow dating this construction to the 13th century: the design of the rectangular windows on the ground floor, of the semi-circular ones on the first floor, the profile of the diaphragm arches and the bond of the walls made of freestone. The dormitory was finished while the Saint Bartholomew chapel was being built.

The broken arch windows in the façade were severely damaged during the Revolution when an intermediary level, needed for a military hospital, was built and split these windows into two. The dormitory will soon be restored. Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 22: How the Monks Shall Sleep.
- separately in separate beds.
- They shall receive positions for their beds, after the manner of their characters, according to the dispensation of their abbot.
- If it can be done, they shall all sleep in one place. If, however, their number do not permit it, they shall rest, by tens or twenties, with elders who will concern themselves about them.
- A candle shall always be burning in that same cell until early in the morning.
- They shall sleep clothed, and girt with belts or with ropes; and they shall not have their knives at their sides while they sleep, lest perchance in a dream they should wound the sleepers.
- And let the on the alert; and, when the signal is given, rising without delay, let them hasten to mutually prepare themselves for the service of God with all gravity and modesty, however.
- The younger brothers shall not have beds by themselves, but interspersed among those of the elder ones.
- And y rise for the service of God, they shall exhort each other mutually with moderation on account of the excuses that those who are sleepy are inclined to make.

10. St Bartholomey’s or the abbot’s chapel:

The abbot Auger de Gogenx, a great builder with a refined taste, who also built the abbatial palace opposite the gallery, built it in 1296. The walls of the chapel were formerly covered with frescos, which unfortunately suffered severely during the 19th century when the roof of the chapel was removed.
  However, traces remain: the Tree of Life on the eastern wall and the Judgement Day on the western wall. A wonderful tile flooring of coloured glazed clay covers the floor. (Its fragility compels the owner to limit the access to it)

An 11 minutes film explains in French the architecture and the beauties of this chapel.
St Bartholomey’s or the abbot’s chapel
11. Show room:

The Master of Cabestany: A place dedicated to the work of this sculptor of the 12th century.

12. The abbot’s reception room:

This large reception room was furnished during Renaissance with a monumental chimney and French ceilings. This Renaissance chimney is seldom seen south to the river Loire.
The abbot’s reception room
Over the door, you can see the arms of Philippe de Lévis (1501 – 1537). This same abbot is the builder of the impressive tower of the abbey in 1501. This room presents you with the heritage of each one of the eighteen villages in the “canton” (district) of Lagrasse.

Pont Vieux - 12th Century bridge:
  The 12th Century humped-back bridge that crosses the River Orbieu. Here you can see bathers and anglers in the deep river waters. Pont Vieux - The 12th Century humped-back bridge
  Place de Halle Place de Halle:

Every Saturday, a wide range of locally produced cheese, along with olives, organic vegetables, wine, meat and much else are available in the small market in Place de Halle.
Visit the “Maison du Patrimoine” (Heritage House) situated next to the church. This former presbytery possesses painted ceilings of the 15th century and exposition on local heritage.
Maison du Patrimoine - Heritage House
Picturesque Village:
Fleamarket of Lagrasse
Discover the medieval city of Lagrasse, which is in the list of “the most beautiful villages of France”.

To make a bridge from the past, the village has nowadays reopened the workshops where artists and artisans can create...


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