a listed Benedictine abbey awaiting major restoration works
The little town grew up around the abbey, alongside the river Lot, where beaches have been created. It has a wealth of superb half-timbered, medieval houses. Local shops and a market provide daily necessities. Agen, with its TGV train station, its airport and its slip roads for the A62 motorway, is but 30 minutes away. The region abounds in a wide variety of delightful scenery including the Quercy hills, the nearby Dordogne river and the fertile Garonne Valley.
At this time, it was seized by the royal army and then became a part of French history when Henry IV gave part of its revenues to the Order of Lateran. It is also since this time that each president of the French Republic is given the title “Honorary Canon of Lateran”.
Restored in the 17th century, it was sold as National Property at the time of the French Revolution. Having become a sixth form college, it was purchased in the 1960’s by private individuals, before gradually falling into disrepair.
All the buildings
The high abbey walls border a square which contains the church, to which it was attached. It is accessed via two sets of large wrought iron gates. Those nearest the church open, via a vaulted passageway, into the courtyard of a cloister which has been preserved. This is part of the monastic enclosure: two galleries form an L-shape, the tall, small-brick arcades of which, with their stone keystones, border an enclosed garden. The wall of the adjacent church forms the third side. The fourth side, no longer in existence, could be evoked by arches covered in climbing plants. Only the well is left of the central garden, where vegetation has run rife. The paving of one of the cloister’s two galleries still comprises its old terracotta tiles; the other has been covered with cement.
The reception building
A large wing, set at right angles to the west side of the abbey, was no doubt constructed on older foundations.
The requirements of current times have led to this building being used for commercial purposes, now a reception building, it sells souvenirs, entrance tickets, etc. It takes up the entire surface area of the ground floor which opens on to the garden via three French windows and two windows. A wooden stairway goes up to the first floor which, spanning the same surface area, is laid out as a large open space.
The wing standing at right angles to the river Lot
Two large, through rooms, with panelled ceilings, open on to the parklands, overlooking the square. The alleyway, which creates a view, is still marked by four large plane trees.
On this side, a covered area, with brick and stone arcades as well as terracotta paving, runs the full length of the building. A round tower at the end marks the corner with the wing overlooking the river Lot.
Above the roof of this covered area, the facade of the house and its six stone-framed windows stand out from the old brick buildings.
A large landing provides access to two rooms that are laid out directly above the two high-ceilinged, through rooms in the entrance wing. These feature vestiges, in the form of medieval decor, showing that the abbey once had a cultural vocation. Proportions remain authentic, giving the impression that these monastic premises were put to a respectful use.
A recent stairway, at the very end of this wing, provides access to a flat, created for a caretaker.
On this level, three rooms with a bathroom.
On the ground floor, two large rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, with a toilet.
The wing standing parallel to the river Lot
Facing the entrance, this wing opens via old, double wooden doors into two rooms, said to be state rooms of the abbey house: the first still has its panelling with cymatium moulding, a tall marble fireplace with a trumeau and a full wall, lined with cupboards. It has wide strip parquet flooring and a plaster ceiling. A passageway and a few steps lead to the second, bigger and more richly decorated room, with a wide marble fireplace featuring a trumeau topped with a coat-of-arms. Here the parquet flooring is laid in a Versailles pattern. A door in the west corner opens on to a landing with a wooden stairway going up to the rooms on the floor above.
Two adjoining lounges open via French windows on to a wide balcony (3.50 m), with wooden posts and “Arcachon-style” balusters, which runs the full length of the facade. On the west side, it provides access to the bedroom in the corner tower; a vast square room, set in a round tower. This refined room features Versailles pattern parquet flooring and a marble fireplace with a trumeau. Its deeply recessed, tall French window, with indoor shutters, opens on to a stone balcony, with old ironwork railings, overlooking the river Lot. A room adjoining this bedroom is in use as a bathroom.
Two rooms follow the first lounge and both have French windows opening on to the balcony. The first room communicates via a wooden door with a square room, opening into the cloister. The second, bigger room has a large fireplace with a wooden mantel. Their plainer parquet flooring is laid in a strip pattern and their ceilings are plastered.
The dominant view from these rooms is outstanding, taking in the river Lot glimpsed through a screen of trees and high hedges, that could do with being thinned out. Old photographs show the small terrace that bordered this wing and the stone steps that led down to the river and the old fishpond that provided sustenance for the monks.
A modern building has been adjoined to the east end of the old wing. It comprises two small rooms with windows looking out over the river Lot. A stairway, in the hall separating them from the old building, provides access to the cellars and the upper floor.
This level can be reached via a stairway going up from the hall adjoining the large lounge. The landing provides access to a first large room and a bedroom in the tower. There is no decor here, just a deeply recessed, medieval window. A flight of wooden steps goes from the landing to a long corridor, illuminated via lightwells. It provides access to a vast room, with five windows looking out over the river Lot. It features wide strip pattern wooden flooring and a level plaster ceiling. A stairway at the other end of the corridor goes down to the new building at the end of the wing.
Laid out under the two wings of the cloister, the cellars currently represent the oldest section of the abbey: listed medieval substructures. The first cellar, under the entrance wing, comprises two small-brick, vaulted rooms with stone cross springers. It has a packed mud floor. It used to house the monks’ wine-press. Both rooms are remarkably well preserved, as is the vaulted room, under the wing set at right angles.
Directly under the tower, dating from the same period, a few steps go down to another, deeper cellar, in the midst of which is a round well. This underground refuge is perhaps connected to passageways just waiting to be discovered.
The saving of monastic edifices that played a major role in French history is in itself an exciting objective. Furthermore, the future vocation of the buildings will prove to be an equally exciting project, given the intrinsic cultural value of the premises. A multitude of possibilities is available to those who take up the gauntlet of such major works, transforming a challenge into reality and creating a convalescent or retirement home in a region revered by its poets (Théophile-de-Viau), an international music centre, as was the case for many a year, or a personal project for old stone enthusiasts. We would very much like to see new life breathed into this abbey. The enthusiastic and motivated inhabitants of the village are ready to provide a maximum of support.
|Land registry surface area||6950 m2|
|Number of bedrooms||6|
|Main building surface area||2000 m2|
Armelle Chiberry du Vignau +33 1 42 84 80 85
NB: The above information is not only the result of our visit to the property; it is also based on information provided by the current owner. It is by no means comprehensive or strictly accurate especially where surface areas and construction dates are concerned. We cannot, therefore, be held liable for any misrepresentation.