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Montmajour Abbey

Prestigious monument UNESCO World Heritage, the Benedictine monastery of Montmajour, established on a rocky island surrounded by a swamp two kilometers from Arles, was founded or rather confirmed in 948.

  • Modern Era – Today

Modern Era – Today

Archaeological Research

Several drawings, engravings and watercolours from the 17th century 33 consist of ‘vues cavalières’ (bridleways views) Fig. 21, plans Fig. 22 Fig. 23, sections and projects ordered by the Benedictines of the St Maur reform. Later documents include studies and restoration projects of the 19th and 20 centuries, in particular by H. Révoil (since 1845) and J. Formigé.34 Fig. 24 Fig. 25

Fig. 21: Montmajour. Bridleway view of the Abbey. Monasticon Gallicanum, 1684. Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 21: Montmajour. Bridleway view of the Abbey. Monasticon Gallicanum, 1684. Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 22: Montmajour. Plan dated of the year 1656. Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 22: Montmajour. Plan dated of the year 1656. Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 23: Montmajour. Plan dated of the year 1698. Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 23: Montmajour. Plan dated of the year 1698. Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 24: Montmajour. Plan and sections of the chapel of St Peter, by H. Révoil (19th century). Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 24: Montmajour. Plan and sections of the chapel of St Peter, by H. Révoil (19th century). Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 25: Montmajour. Engravings of the chapel interior and of two capitels of Corinthian style, by H. Révoil (19th century). Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Fig. 25: Montmajour. Engravings of the chapel interior and of two capitels of Corinthian style, by H. Révoil (19th century). Credit: Aix – Marseille Université

Few excavations have been undertaken on the site. In the 1920’s F. Benoit excavated the rock cemetery around the apse of Notre-Dame. 35 Ph.D. thesises by E. Laget-Mognetti and E. Magnani have examined the history of Montmajour in great detail 36, inspiring J. M. Rouquette and A. Bastié. 37 Preliminary archaeological investigations related to restoration accomplished in 1994 and in 1997 38, lead to the discovery of the early Romanesque cellar (11th – early 12th centuries). Fig. 26 Archaeological investigations and surveys of St Peter’s chapel and the cloisters were conducted in 1999 and in 2008 39 and, more recently, in 2013. A. Hartmann-Virnich studied St Peter’s, the 11th century columns of Notre-Dame and the crypt in the stylistic context of Romanesque Provence (11th -12th centuries).40

Fig. 26: Montmajour. The wall and the soil of the early Romanesque cellar (11th – early 12th centuries). Credit: F. Paone, INRAP

Fig. 26: Montmajour. The wall and the soil of the early Romanesque cellar (11th – early 12th centuries). Credit: F. Paone, INRAP

A study of the spatial organization and typology of the rock tombs of Montmajour, disposed around the Holy Cross chapel and the crypt of the main church 41 Fig. 27 has suggests that the cemetery, looted in the 19th century, dates back to the origins of the monastery. However, further archaeological investigation has evidenced that most tombs postdate the extensive rebuilding campaigns of the 12th century. A laser survey of the surface of the rock below the abbey church which was conducted in Autumn 2013 on behalf of the Francia Media project, could yield new information about the position of the 11th century crypt.

Fig. 27: Montmajour. The rock tombs, disposed around the crypt of the main church. Credit: A. Hartmann-Virnich

Fig. 27: Montmajour. The rock tombs, disposed around the crypt of the main church. Credit: A. Hartmann-Virnich

Site today

Landmarked as early as 1840, Montmajour is now property of the National Monuments fund and has been labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage. The spectacular monumental complex is regarded as a major highlight of the Romanesque style in southern France. The site is administrated by the Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques, which ensures its conservation and restoration, receiving visitors and organizing exhibitions of photography and contemporary art.

The current state of preservation of the Romanesque abbey is good. Though most of the Romanesque buildings of the 12th and 13th centuries are very well preserved (abbey church, crypt and cloister partly rebuilt after the collapse of the Roman cellar in 1703), the upper level of the cloisters and the 18th century monastery erected by the monks of Saint-Maur reform are in ruins and closed to the public. St Peter’s Chapel (11th century), the oldest building still in existence, is currently closed due to security issues as pressure exerted by the surrounding rock is menacing the built structures. Visitors have access to the entrance of St Peter’s, to the entire complex of Notre-Dame and the 14th-century watchtower whereas the chapel of the Holy Cross nearby is on private ground. There is no particular information on the site (billboards, QR codes) though a brochure is offered to visitors. This document could be updated taking into account recent archaeological research and its content more clearly focused (with QR codes) on the early periods of the monastery (10th-11th centuries), consistent with the Heritage Route of Francia Media.

References

33 The main part of those iconographic resources is kept at the Departmental and National Archives and in the Patrimonial Collections of the Media Arles library and at the Heritage Multimedia Center (Paris, Charenton).

34 Révoil, Henri, Architecture romane,  3 vol., 1873

35 Benoît, Fernand, L’abbaye de Montmajour, Petites monographies des grands édifices de la France, 1928

36 Laget-Mognetti,Élisabeth, L’abbaye de Montmajour, Ph.D. Thèse de l‘École des Chartes, Paris, 1969, p. 588
Laget-Mognetti, Élisabeth, ‘L’abbaye de Montmajour’, in Congrès archéologique de France, 134, 1976, Pays d’Arles, Paris 1979, p. 182-193
Magnani, Éliane, Monastères et Aristocratie en Provence, milieu Xe-début XIIe siècle, Vita Regularis. Ordnungen und Deutungen religiösen Lebens im Mittelalter, 10, Münster, 1999, p. 610

37 Rouquette, Jean-Maurice, Provence romane 1. La Provence rhodanienne, La Pierre-qui-Vire, 1974 (Zodiaque), p. 495
Rouquette, Jean-Maurice and Bastié, Aldo, l’abbaye de Montmajour, Paris, Editions du Patrimoine, p. 64

38 Paone, Françoise, ‘L’apport de l’archéologie dans la connaissance de l’abbaye de Montmajour. Bilan des fouilles de 1994 et 1997’, in Bastié 1999, p. 261-272

39 Démians d’Archimbaud, Gabrielle; Esquieu, Yves; Fixot, Michel and Hartmann-Virnich, Andreas, ‘Espaces d’accueil et pôles occidentaux dans l’architecture religieuse préromane et romane de Provence’, in Sapin, Christian (ed.), Avant-nefs et espaces d’accueil dans l‘église entre le IVe et le XIIe siècle. Proceedings of the International Colloquium of Auxerre, 17-20th June 1999, Editions du CTHS, 2002, p. 180-203

40 Hartmann-Virnich, Andreas, ‘Remarques sur l’architecture religieuse du premier âge roman en Provence (1030-1100)’, in Proceedings of the International Colloquium at Motovun, 28-30th May 1999, Hortus artium medievalium, 6, 2000, p. 35-64
Démians d’Archimbaud, Gabrielle; Esquieu, Yves; Fixot, Michel and Hartmann-Virnich, Andreas, ‘Espaces d’accueil et pôles occidentaux dans l’architecture religieuse préromane et romane de Provence’, in Sapin, Christian (ed.), Avant-nefs et espaces d’accueil dans l‘église entre le IVe et le XIIe siècle. Proceedings of the International Colloquium of Auxerre, 17-20th June 1999, Editions du CTHS, 2002, p. 180-203
Hartmann-Virnich, Andreas, ‘_Restauratio formae primitivis ecclesiae_. La construction d’une mémoire: l’évocation des premiers temps chrétiens dans l’architecture du premier âge roman. L’exemple de la Provence’, in Carozzi, Claude and Sato, Sho-Ichi (eds), Histoire, fiction, représentation, 21st Century COE Program of International Conference Series N. 8, March 2007 (Proceedings of the International French-Japanese Congress, Aix-en-Provence, 23-25th October 2006), Nagoya, 2007, p. 15-37

41 Kérourio, Philippe, ‘La nécropole rupestre de l’abbaye de Montmajour. Description et essai de datation’, Bull. Archéo. de Provence, 10, 1982, p. 27-49

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