Montmajour Abbey

Arles - Monument

Closed on 1st January and 1st and 11th November.
The island of Montmajour, from the Latin 'major' (larger), is surrounded by lakes and marshland and culminates at around 40 metres. It is on this site, at the gateway to Arles, that the first Benedictine community was founded in 949, inaugurating eight centuries of monastic life. The monastery was gradually extended and enhanced and quickly became one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in Europe, particularly during the Great Pardon of the Holy Cross, initiated in 1030. The many buildings on the site (convent buildings, cloister, chapels and tower) are of major architectural interest. A new monastery, built in the 18th century, gave the site a very different appearance, as it was inspired by grandiose and functional civil architecture. After many upheavals over the course of history, Montmajour Abbey is now undergoing restoration work, which is gradually revealing it to the curiosity of visitors. It has also become a prestigious exhibition site, particularly during the International Photography Festival.
Montmajour Abbey has two convent complexes. The construction of the first complex progressed from the 11th to the 15th centuries and began with Saint Peter's hermitage, which consists of two chapels, one of which is troglodyte. The 12th century saw the construction of the first abbey church which, although unfinished, is impressive due to its size, simplicity and beauty (its ogival vault dates from the 13th century). It includes convent buildings and Notre Dame church, built on a partly subterranean crypt, with a highly decorated Romanesque-style cloister. To the east, outside the monastery, is Saint Croix Chapel, which is reminiscent of a monumental reliquary. In the 14th century, a bell tower and a powerful defensive tower dominated the cloister complex. Its height of 26 metres allows a vast panoramic view, giving a better appreciation of the original natural site as well as the complex diversity of the buildings. Saint Maur Monastery, the second convent complex, built in the 18th century, was the work of the Avignon architect Pierre Mignard. Of the 28 windows on its vast southern façade, only four remain today.
HISTORY
The Benedictines owe their installation in 949 on Montmajour Island, a former Christian necropolis inhabited by a few hermits, to the Teucinde family, originally from Bourgogne. The Benedictines, who were organised as a regular monastic community, firstly under the patronage of Saint Peter, undertook a vast project in the 12th century which led to the first convent complex dedicated to Saint Benoît. A prosperous community and a very popular pilgrimage destination, Montmajour Abbey experienced several centuries of expansion and influence. However, in the 14th century, the establishment was placed under the commendatory system (granting of revenues to a secular ecclesiastic or layman), which led to its spiritual and material decadence. At the request of the Archbishop of Arles, and against the advice of the monks, the congregation of Saint Maur was entrusted with the restoration of the Abbey. The congregation took possession in 1639, re-established discipline and in 1703 began the construction of Saint Maur monastery. The abbey was secularised in 1786 and then sold as a national asset during the Revolution. The partly destroyed buildings were bought by the town of Arles in 1838 and listed as a national Historic Monument in 1845. They were restored by Henri Revoil under the Second Empire. The Abbey became State property in 1945.
The restoration work on the cloister, started by Revoil in 1862, was continued by Formigé between 1907 and 1955. The Maurist monastery was consolidated in 1921. However, the occupation of the buildings by German troops left them in a terrible state. A major restoration campaign was carried out between 1978 and 1988. The operations, which mainly involved the two monasteries, were intended to protect, secure and restore the existing buildings, with a view to welcoming the public and hosting exhibitions. In 1999, a new reception area was designed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti.

  • Accessible for disabled
  • Coach park, Private parking
  • Internet access

Information provided by OT Arles

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