St. Pierre Abbey of Moissac

A historical snapshot of the St. Pierre Abbey of Moissac

At Moissac the Saint Pierre Abbey is redolent of the eternal: sculpture, architecture and illuminated manuscripts. Moissac offers a chance to discover the monks and the spirit of the times, as well as the splendours of Romanesque art.

According to legend, the monastery of Moissac was founded by Clovis where the Tarn River meets the foothills of Quercy. From this faraway epoch only the legend and a sad record of depredation remain.

The affiliation of the Moissac abbey with the Order of Cluny led to prestige and renown. Under the rubric of the Road to Santiago de Compostela, the Saint Pierre abbatial complex and cloister are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Moissac abbey witnessed a golden age in the 11th and 12th centuries. From this prolific period date the cloister and the abbey church with its portal and tympanum with Romanesque sculptures. These works, witnesses to a flourishing culture, are rivalled only by the illuminated manuscripts from the monastery’s library. The manuscripts, products of the scriptorium, the monks’ writing workshop, were taken to Paris by Colbert in the 17th century.

Adaptation and transformation

The tumultuous Middle Ages and the upheavals of the following centuries did not spare the abbey, which adapted in order to survive. In the 17th century secularization dissolved the community: the Benedictine Monks were replaced by Augustinian Canons.

The French Revolution brought a definitive end to nearly 1000 years of religious community at Moissac. The abbey’s possessions were sold off to individuals as state property. The buildings of the enclosure were subject to modifications or new uses, if not simply destroyed outright.

The abbey was classified a historical monument in 1847 but it was already too late. The construction of the Bordeaux-Sete rail line created a gash in the sacred enclosure, destroying forever the refectory. The railway separates the southern from the northern part of the abbey. From what remains of the complex today, one can discover the cloister and its attendant chapels, the abbey church, its tympanum and the abbatial living quarters.