Languedoc is a beautiful region with many extraordinary sites. L’Abbaye de Valmagne in Villeveyrac is one of them. It’s no wonder the Cistercian abbey was officially classified as a “Site d’Exception en Languedoc”. Visiting this peaceful place revealed some of its secrets. Like why are there huge wine casks inside the church?
Wealth and misfortune
Although the abbey’s turbulent history has taken its toll, it has always had dedicated people taking care of the property. Founded in 1139 by the Viscount of Béziers, l’Abbaye de Valmagne was a renowned, prestigious and wealthy abbey for about two centuries. To be followed by centuries of misfortune and misery, due to the Hundred Years War, Black Death and the Revolution.
Enormous wine casks
It wasn’t until 1791 that Monsieur Granier-Joyeuse bought the heavily damaged abbey of Valmagne. Not for religious reasons, but because he wanted to build a wine cave inside the church. The Cistercian Monks had been growing vineyards since the 12th century. Monsieur Granier-Joyeuse continued to produce wine and decided to use the side chapels of the cathedral to stock his enormous wooden wine casks. It almost seems like these chapels were made for it…
When Monsieur Granier-Joyeuse died in 1838, the family sold Valmagne to the Earl of Turenne, who decided to keep the wine casks. Up to today, the abbey still belongs to descendants of the Earls of Turenne, and you can still see the wooden wine casks inside the cathedral. Luckily, l’Abbaye de Valmagne is well-taken care off these days. Renovations to the church and the monastery are ongoing. Which shows, as the abbey has won many prizes in recognition of all the hard work done to restore the church.
Initially, the monks of l’Abbaye de Valmagne were Benedictine. Only for about 20 years though… And even then, they continued to follow the Benedictine rule that they couldn’t go outside of the abbey. To get a little bit of fresh air now and then, the monks could go to the monastery garden. Walking around this gorgeous lush inner garden, surrounded by the beautiful groin-vaulted cloister, makes me wonder what life would have been like in those early days.
My moment of zen was complete when I took a minute to sit by the gorgeous fountain. The Abbey of Valmagne is one of the rare abbeys in France which able to conserve its fountain. Pretty amazing if you think about all the damage that was caused to the abbey. From here, I can also admire the two bells they replaced in the bell tower, as the old bells were melted down during the Revolution.
During the Middle Ages, the monks had their own vegetable garden. Obviously to feed themselves, but also to cure illnesses. Even this medieval garden was brought back to life during the renovations. Nowadays the garden is full of rare and forgotten plants, herbs, vegetables and fruits. The abbey’s restaurant “la Ferme-Auberge” uses these delights to cook with. And don’t forget about their organically produced wine! They offer free tastings, and you can get yourself a bottle or two in the shop. More than enough reason to go to l’Abbaye de Valmagne if you ask me!