After what seemed to be a busy couple of days schlepping all over Provence, my parents and I wanted to do something a little low key. We decided to visit Abbaye de Montmajour, a former Benedictine monastery built between the 10th and 13th centuries which wasn’t too far from our rental house. Though we didn’t intend to do a guided tour, we were told one was starting very shortly when we arrived. We decided to join it and I’m so glad we did. The abbey, while beautiful, doesn’t that have much explaining its history. I probably wouldn’t have appreciated the visit as much had I not done the guided tour (there might have been audio guides available but I can’t remember). The guide was very knowledgeable about the place and she even let us go into the subterranean crypt which was closed to the public for restoration work (though she made us promise not to tell anyone since she technically wasn’t allowed to do this).
Until the late Middle Ages, the rock Montmajour sits on was actually an island surrounded by marshes. People could only reach the island by boat. The place was used as a cemetery in which graves were carved into the rock. The graves are now empty but you can still see the outlines of the grave in the rock where the bodies once used to lay.
The abbey’s “glory days” were in the 12th century. Over time, wars, plagues, famines, and people pillaging the countryside caused the abbey to be abandoned and it fell into ruins. It was officially secularized in 1786 when the last monks finally left and changed owners several times.
In 1840, the author Prosper Merimee (the guy who wrote the novel Carmen which then inspired George Bizet’s opera) put the monastery on the list of historical monuments which needed restoration work. Eventually, the French state claimed ownership of the abbey and it opened for tours to the public.
I didn’t take pictures inside the abbey because my camera does not do well with dim lighting. But I did take pictures of the cloisters.
While religious wedding ceremonies can’t take place in the abbey anymore (since it is now a secular place), you can rent the abbey out for wedding receptions. I took some pictures of the surrounding view. Imagine having the cocktail hour overlooking this picturesque scenery at dusk.
There was also a tower we could climb and while I hate circular, tower staircases, I went ahead and climbed it. Whenever my mother is around and there is anything that involves going up a million stairs, that is the first place my mother usually wanders off to. As my father joked, “Elle adore tout ce qui monte vers les cieux” (she loves everything that climbs toward the heavens, it sounds better in French.)
And here are more pictures of the surrounding view, including some of the Maurist monastery ruins. I have to say, that tower was rather frightening. There was an extra ledge/step running along the edge of the inside of the tower, allowing visitors to admire the view from higher up. However, in order to get up on the ledge, there was a gap between the main tower floor and the ledge, wide enough that a small child could have easily fallen through it. Definitely not safe for families with small kids! It was rather nerve-wracking being able to see high up we were.
We thought the tour was over after climbing the tower. However, the tour guide advised us there was still one more chapel to visit but it was across the street on private property and can only be seen with a tour guide (since they have the key to the fence that surrounds the chapel).
So here it is la Chapelle de Sainte Croix or aka the Chapel of the Holy Cross. I actually took some pictures of the empty graves here so you will understand what I was talking about earlier.