Saint-Pierre Abbaye of Moissac | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Saint-Pierre Abbaye of Moissac

Moissac, Occitania, France

Luke Tomes

14 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Saint-Pierre Abbaye of Moissac

Saint-Pierre Abbaye of Moissac is a former Benedictine and Cluniac monastery in Moissac, Tarn-et-Garonne in south-western France.

Saint-Pierre Abbaye of Moissac history

According to legend, Moissac Abbey was founded by the Frankish king Clovis, in person the day after a victory over the Visigoths, in 506. The legend states that Clovis had made a vow to erect a monastery with 1,000 monks (in memory of a thousand of his warriors who died in battle) if he triumphed over the Visigoths who had ruled the area for the past century as federati of the Roman Empire.

Historical records however indicate that it was founded by Saint Didier, bishop of Cahors, in the middle of the 7th century. The establishment of the monastery was difficult because of raids by Moors from the south and west and the Norsemen from the north. The abbey was sacked by the Arabs of al-Andalus twice around 732 and was looted in the 9th century by Norman pirates and in the 10th century by Hungarians.

The 11th century was a dramatic time for the abbey. In 1030 the roof collapsed from lack of maintenance, and in 1042 there was a serious fire. Durand de Bredons, bishop of Toulouse, appointed the abbot of Cluny Odilon de Mercœur to bring in a sweeping reform to counter the laxity of the monks in 1047. A new church building was added in 1063 along with significant restoration works.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, the abbey was led by major abbots Dom Hunaud de Gavarret and Dom Ansquitil, who had the doorway and tympanum built. In the 13th century, Raymond de Montpezat, followed by Bertrand de Montaigut, abbots and builders, ruled the abbey. Aymeric de Peyrac, writing his Chronicle in the 15th century in the château of Saint-Nicolas-de-la-Grave, describes these times.

Illuminated manuscripts produced in the monastery’s scriptorium were taken to Paris by Jean-Baptiste Colbert in the 17th century and are now in the Bibliothèque Nationale.The 15th century ushered in a new golden age under the rule of abbots Pierre and Antoine de Caraman, whose building programme included in particular the Gothic part of the abbey church.

The 1626 secularization of the abbey caused the Benedictine monks to leave the cloister, which had been a centre of Benedictine life for nearly 1,000 years. They were replaced by Augustinian canons, under commendatory abbots including well-known cardinals such as Mazarin and de Brienne.

In 1793, the French Revolution put an end to monastic life in Moissac. The abbey church of St Pierre is relatively intact and is still an active church, but the outlying buildings have suffered considerably.

In the middle of the 19th century, the laying of a railway track threatened the cloister but it was saved (though the refectory was demolished to facilitate the railway cutting) and listed as a historic monument. Since 1998 the church and cloisters have had international protection as part of a World Heritage Site, “Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France”.

Saint-Pierre Abbaye of Moissac today

Mossaic Abbey or ‘Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Moissac’ is a grand medieval monastery, renowned not just for its Romanesque architecture and treasures, but for its association with the Order of Cluny. Indeed it is one of the churches inscribed by UNESCO as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela.

Although much of the abbey has been destroyed over time – including during the French Revolution – there is still much to see, including its cloister and chapels along with the abbey church itself as well as its tympanum and living quarters.

Access to the church is free and free all year from 8:30 to 19h. Religious ceremonies (weddings, burials, baptisms, daily masses) are however regularly organized. Guided tours of the abbey (approximately 1h / 1h15) are regularly proposed by the guides of the Heritage Service depending on the season. Do not hesitate to inquire before coming. Permanent and temporary exhibitions are proposed in the cloisters of the cloister.

Getting to Saint-Pierre Abbaye of Moissac

The address of the site is 6 Place Durand de Bredon, 82200 Moissac, France. The town of Moissac is roughly 70 kilometres (1 hour drive) outside of Toulouse and 200 kilometres from Bordeaux (2 hours and 30 minute drive). The former monastery is just on the north bank of the river Tarn.

There is payed parking a minute walk away from the abbey.

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