Lagrasse, labelled as one of France’s most beautiful villages, lies in the middle of the rolling countryside of the Corbières massif. A stopover in this medieval village will lead you to the impressive Abbaye de Lagrasse, also known as the Abbaye Sainte-Marie l’Orbie. Its origins date from the end of the 8th century, and it is the most important Benedictine monastery in the Aude department. Today I will take you on a visit to the part that once was the residence of Lord Abbot.
Lord Abbot’s palace
Since 1796, The Abbaye Sainte-Marie l’Orbie has been divided into two parts. The oldest, mainly medieval one, is public, owned by the Aude department, and houses the former Lord Abbot’s palace. The other part has been occupied since 2004 by a monastic community of catholic clergy called the canons regular. Both sections can be visited but have separate entrances and thus different opening hours and entrance fees. This post tells about Lord Abbot’s residence section, which can be visited daily from mid-January to mid-December. The entrance fee is 5 euros for adults and 2.50 euros for children between 6 and 15 years old.
Shadows of Soot
During the Middle Ages, the Abbaye Sainte-Marie l’Orbie was the most powerful in the Languedoc region. The Lord Abbots were influential men, and many of the monks came from wealthy families. The abbey was a real business and especially flourished between the 9th and 12th centuries. It was the head of hundreds of churches and nearly ten monasteries, spread over Cathar country as far as Catalonia in Spain. Wandering around opened several doors to Lord Abbot’s private quarters, starting with a small courtyard. On the ground floor, the arrows also directed me to the former bakery and storeroom. Following the stairs up brought me to the former dormitory. I was moved by the artwork at the end of the immense room. Christian Jaccard had made these ‘Shadows of Soot’ as part of the In Situ 2017 festival. This European festival promotes artistic creation in public places.
Another serene place in the abbey is Lord Abbot’s upper chapel on the first floor. Abbot Auger de Cogenx created this personal chapel in the 13th century in honour of the apostle Saint Bartholomew. It has a beautiful tile floor and delicate wall paintings. On to the ‘salle du maître de Cabestany’, with a permanent exhibition of original and cast sculptures by this anonymous master sculptor. The last room I saw was the stateroom, including a monumental 16th century chimney. You can see that the abbey has kept its spiritual soul. Along with the visit, you will find plenty of multilingual information signs explaining more about the history. In total, my visit to this part of the abbey lasted about 45 minutes. If you would like to combine it with the canonical part of the Abbaye Sainte-Marie, keep in mind the different opening hours.