Saint-Martin-du-Canigou: A Fortress Abbey In Roussillon
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Saint-Martin-du-Canigou: A Fortress Abbey In Roussillon

The abbey prospered under the protection of Saint-Germain of Auxerre, and later of Saint-Michael, whose popularity was then growing in France, and it became the heart of a large agricultural estate. The greatest craftsmen worked on it. By 1140, great quantities of the richest marble were quarried from the Pyrenees to provide the columns of the cloister, which were then topped with strong capitals furnished with the usual Roussillon fantastic imagery. The nave, transept and apse survive from Moorish times, some even say from the Visigothic era, while the apsidal chapels and wonderful bell tower date from the 11th and 12th centuries.

At an early date in the Middle Ages, Cuxa became the religious centre of Roussillon. In 875, the monks of Saint-Antoine were driven from their home by a great flood of the Têt, and decided to settle in this quiet valley in the lee of the Canigou massif. The countryside has a Florentine calm, rich with peach, cherry and apple trees. The abbey prospered under the protection of Saint-Germain of Auxerre, and later of Saint-Michael, whose popularity was then growing in France, and it became the heart of a large agricultural estate.

With the help of the counts of Cerdagne, two great abbots, Garin in the 10th century and Oliba in the 11th, inspired a religious and artistic flowering here that made the abbey the most important cultural centre in Roussillon. Garin, who was a friend of Gerbert of Aurillac, later to become Pope Sylvester II, often visited Rome and Venice  where he acquired gifts and holy relics from the Doge.  Oliba was the son of a count of Cerdagne, and, as Abbot of Ripoll, Bishop of Vich and founder of Montserrat, was one of the most influential people of his day. The Church of Saint-Michal was consecrated in 974. The greatest craftsmen worked on it. By 1140, great quantities of the richest marble were quarried from the Pyrenees to provide the columns of the cloister, which were then topped with strong capitals furnished with the usual Roussillon fantastic imagery. The nave, transept and apse survive from Moorish times , some even say from the Visigothic era, while the apsidal chapels and wonderful bell tower date from the 11th and 12th centuries. This four-storeyed , twin-bayed tower, its skyline reminiscent of the battlements of a castle keep, its sides decorated with Lombardic arcades, dominates the surrounding plain.

The great days of the abbey were over by the 13th century. Later, during the French Revolution, its treasures were scattered. Marble from the church later appeared in the public baths of Prades, while some arches were found eighty kilometres beyond that. In 1919, a small group of monks undertook the restoration of the monastery, with the help of the French Administration des Beaux Arts. The monks of Montserrat contributed to the revitalisation of its spiritual life. 

Abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou, France.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Abbaye_Saint-Martin_du_Canigou.00.JPG?uselang=fr

Marble capital, Abbey Church of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b2/Saint-Martin-du-Canigou-PM_45677.jpg?uselang=fr

The strong capitals in the nave of the Abbey Church of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Saint-Martin-du-Canigou-PM_45708.jpg?uselang=fr

Bell tower at the Abbey Church of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou. 

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fb/Saint-Martin-du-Canigou-PM_45714.jpg?uselang=fr

Nave and choir of the Abbey Church of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou. A survival from Moorish or Visigothic times.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/51/Saint-Martin-du-Canigou-PM_45702.jpg?uselang=fr

The beautiful site of the Abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou in the Pyrenees, Roussillon, France.

Image source:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Saint-Martin-du-Canigou-PM_45725.jpg?uselang=fr

Absidal chapels of the Abbey Church of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Saint-Martin-du-Canigou-PM_45722.jpg?uselang=fr

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Comments (4)

Another marvelous historical landmark which best exemplifies France as one of the leading architectural nations in the world, Francois. Well presented.

Ranked #2 in France

The expert is all things French is still going strong - well written and illustrated!

Oh how I miss reading your great articles. I miss you too.
Ranked #1 in France
Thank you Roberta. You can meet me also on FB.
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