History and heritage

The abbey of Alet-les-Bains

Located in the spa of Alet-les-Bains, in the Upper Valley of Aude, the origins of the Benedictine abbey date back to the 8th century. In the 12th century, it attracted many pilgrims. The abbey knew some glory after the difficult times of the Crusades against the Cathars, being chosen as the seat of a new diocese.

The abbey, built in the ramparts of the city,  was partially destroyed during the Wars of Religion. Imposing remains still stand, such as the cathedral of Notre Dame of the 12th century, the Chapter House, and the monumental gateway to the north.

The abbey of Caunes-Minervois

The abbey of Caunes-Minervois, founded in the 8th century, was, from its origin, affiliated with the Benedictine Order.

This monumental ensemble makes of Caunes-Minervois one of the most remarkable examples of early southern romanesque art, whose most interesting feature is the abbey of Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul, richly decorated with pink marble of Caunes, famous in Versailles and in all the most prestigious monuments of Europe.

The superb gate and the porch of the 12th century are decorated with multiple and varied patterns  (pinecones, humans, animals, twists ...).

In addition to the abbey, the village of Caunes-Minervois has an extraordinary architectural heritage. This is the most comprehensive Renaissance ensemble in Aude.

The abbey of Fontfroide

At first Benedictine, the Abbey of Fontfroide became cistercian in 1145, before experiencing its heyday of spiritual influence in the 12th and 13th centuries.

It was an active bastion of orthodoxy during the Crusade against the Cathars, and the killing in 1208 of one of his monks, legate of Pope Innocent III,  triggered the Albigensian Crusade. One of its abbots , Jacques Fournier, was himself elected Pope, under the name of Benedict XII (1334-1342).

This abbey, jewel of the Corbières, is one of the best preserved of the south of France. The buildings, mostly built in the 12th and 13th centuries, preserve the first traces of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. Significant efforts are undertaken in the 18th century: the entrance porch and pediment that surround the beautiful courtyard, the house of prior …

Today, the abbey of Fontfroide is also famous for its rose garden, the largest in the South of France, its scented garden, and its sacred music festivals.

The abbey of Lagrasse

At the heart of the Corbières, the medieval village of Lagrasse, ranked among the "Most Beautiful Villages of France" has one of the largest Benedictine abbeys in France, Sainte Marie d'Orbieu, founded at the time of Charlemagne. It quickly gained great prosperity and a considerable influence even in Catalonia.

For these reasons, the abbey offers the visitor a unique architectural ensemble from the Middle Ages to the 18th century: The chapels, the abbey church, the cellar and the monks' dormitory, the huge bell tower, the old sacristy and the transept built in the 11th century, are its most remarkable features.

The sculptures of the Master of Cabestany require a special attention for the finesse and originality of their execution.

The abbey of Saint-Hilaire

The origins of this fortified Benedictine abbey date back to the 6th and 7th centuries.

It is located in the picturesque valley of Lauquet.

Occupying a dominant position in the heart of the old medieval fort of Saint-Hilaire, the monastery with a human dimension is organized around its Gothic cloister. It houses the sarcophagus of Saint-Sernin, major work of the Master of Cabestany.

Here, in 1531, the monks invented the world's first sparkling wine, the Blanquette.

The abbey of Saint-Papoul

This Benedictine abbey was founded in the 8th century in the Lauragais area. Its history is closely linked to the martyrdom of Saint Papoul. It became a place of pilgrimage which strengthened its prosperity. In 1317, the abbey was erected a diocese where 34 bishops succeeded until the Revolution.

The abbey is a jewel of Romanesque art. In the apse of the old cathedral, you can admire the most important ensemble of capitals attributed to the famous Master of Cabestany (2nd half of the 12th century). The bell tower is from a later period, while the choir is noted for its baroque setting.

The beautiful Gothic cloister built in the 14th century, will let you admire the capitals decorated with rich animal or plant carvings.

The abbey of Saint-Polycarpe

Former Benedictine abbey founded in the late 8th century. It was successively under the control of the abbeys of Alet, then Lagrasse. It regained its autonomy in the late 12th century.

The monastic buildings belong to the 17th and 18th centuries. The abbey church of the 11th century, is dedicated to the Virgin. The church was covered with frescoes which traces remain. Outside, the apse of the church adorned with Lombard arches.

The treasure is permanently exposed, and is composed with reliquaries of Saint Benoit (14th century) and Saint Polycarpe (14th century), and a reliquary carried by two angels (14th century).

The abbey of Villelongue

A few kilometers from Carcassonne, at the foot of the Black Mountain, this abbey, nestled in lush greenery, was founded by Cistercian monks in the 12th century.

The prosperity of the abbey is great, donations are numerous after its founding, especially during the struggle against the Cathars, where it takes an active part.

Around the cloister are organized monastic buildings which can be seen today, such as the  refectory, the chapter house (late 12th century), the sacristy with frescoes of the 12th century, the imposing ruins of the church, the monks' cellar.

Villelongue is one of the few cistercian abbeys in France to have retained its medieval walls of the 14th century. The abbey hosts nowadays, concerts of chamber music.