Montmajour Abbey

Montmajour Abbey -Abbaye Notre Dame de Montmajour, is a fortified Benedictine monastery built between the 10th and 13th century on what was then an island five kilometers north of Arles, in the Bouches-du Rhône département, Provence, in the south of France. The Abbey is noted for its 11th-14th century graves, carved in the rock, its subterranean crypt, and its massive unfinished church. It was an important pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages, and in the 18th century it was the site of a large Maurist Monastery, now in ruin. The abbey is cared for as a Historic Monument by the Centre des monuments nationaux.

Until the late Middle Ages Montmajour was an island, 43 meters high, surrounded by marshes and accessible only by boat. Beginning in the third millennium BC the island was used as a cemetery, with individual graves carved into the rock. In the 9th and 10th centuries the island also served as a sanctuary for the local residents during invasions of the Saracens and the Normans. During the Middle Ages, several legends arose about Montmajour and its founding. One legend said that the island had been the sanctuary of St. Trophimus, who had been sent from Rome by St. Peter to convert the Gauls. After coming to Arles in 46 AD, he took shelter in one of the caves on the island and received disciples there. A rock cell under the church is called “The Confessional of St. Trophimus.”

Another legend said that the graves were those of soldiers of Charlamagne, who had fought against the Saracens. A third legend said that the first church was founded by King Childebert I, the son of Clovis, when he saw fervor of a group of anchorite hermits on the island.

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