This medieval abbey near Carcassonne has a lovely Gothic cloister and an important work of Romanesque art: the carved sarcophagus of St. Sernin (c. 1150) by the Master of Cabestany.
Facts & Stats
- Best Known As
- Saint-Hilaire-D'Aude Abbey
- Full Name
- Saint-Hilaire-D'Aude Abbey
- Also Known As
- Abbaye Saint-HilaireSaint-Hilaire-d'Aude AbbeySt. Hilaire Abbey
- 43.093288° N, 2.308406° E (map)
- Rue des Caves11250
- 00 33 4 68 69 62 76
What remains of the abbey today dates mainly from the 13th and 14th centuries. The Romanesque church at Saint-Hilaire has a short floor plan, almost Greek-cross shaped, with a single nave, square transepts and a large semicircular apse at the east end.
On the north side of the church is the lovely Gothic cloister (c. 1330), built under Abbot Bertrand of Touron (1323-40), consisting of 54 pointed arches supported by slender double columns. The capitals are eroded and mostly carved with foliage designs. From the south gallery, there is a fine view across the garth to the north flank of the church. Next to the cloister is the Capitulary, with an impressive 16th-century painted ceiling.
The short Gothic nave (1257) is furnished with wooden pews and a pulpit and has a cozy feel to it. It terminates in a simple round apse at the east end. The left transept, now a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, contains an altarpiece of gilded wood dating from the 17th century. It was originally installed in the town's parish church but was moved here in 1726.
The earliest chapel on this site was built by St. Hilary, the first bishop of Carcassonne, in the 6th century. Hilary was buried in the chapel. In the 8th century, an abbey was founded here and the monks replaced the small chapel with a larger church. The abbey was connected with St-Michel-du-Cuxa Abbey in the 10th century.
On February 22, 970, the relics of St. Hilary were discovered and the abbey was re-dedicated to him instead of St. Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse. This was done on the order of Count Roger I and Countess Adelaide of Carcassonne, who became patrons of the abbey, adopting the Benedictine rule. The couple were buried in the abbey church around 1012.
The monastery was badly damaged during the Albigensian Crusade (1209-29) and restored by Abbot William (1237-60).
In the 14th century, Saint-Hilaire experienced major financial difficulties, owing largely to the devastation of the Black Death and Hundred Years' War. In the 16th century, the abbey came under a commendatory abbot, who was not elected by the monks. As a result, Saint-Hilaire was ruled by a succession of wealthy aristocratic abbots who ignored their duties, bringing the abbey into further decline.
After centuries of such misfortune, the abbey was closed in 1748 by Monseigneur de Bezons, Bishop of Carcassonne. The abbey buildings were sold and, in 1758, the abbey church became the parish church of the town. The spire of the church was added in 1898.
- Strafford, Peter. Romanesque Churches of France: A Traveller's Guide, pp. 312-14.
- Official Website of Saint-Hilaire-d'Aude Abbey. Official source.