Saint-Papoul Abbey

Meeting the Master of Cabestany.

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From Catalonia to Navarra and from Languedoc to Tuscany, the Master of Cabestany, a leading sculptor in the Romanesque style, created his masterpieces. One of them can be found here, in the majestic Benedictine abbey in the small medieval village of Lauragais.

History

In the 8th century, hermits founded a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saint Papoul. The Abbey became famous in the 11th century, thanks to Saint Bérenger, one of its monks. He performed miracles, and pilgrims flocked to see him. In the 12th century, the Abbey asked the Master of Cabestany to sculpt the eastern end of the church. He was a famous sculptor who made a series of modillions and capitals. The Abbey was largely uninvolved in the Albigensian Crusade. It contains the tomb of Jourdain de Roquefort, a great Cathar lord of the Montagne Noire, and received, from his family, the fiefdom of Saint-Papoul. The abbot encouraged the development of the village next to the Abbey. In 1317, Saint-Papoul became a diocese. Afterwards, the pillaging increased. After a period of reconstruction during the 17th century, the Abbey lost the marble fittings from its cloister during the French Revolution. In 1840, it was classed as a historic monument.

The eastern end of the abbey church

A highly-talented craftsman worked at Saint-Papoul to sculpt a series of modillions and capitals which decorate the eastern end of the church. Monsters, lions, a goat and men tilt their expressive faces towards us. Two life-like and intricate capitals recount two moments in the story of Daniel in the Lions' Den from the Old Testament

The Master of Cabestany

Saint-Papoul is an unmissable destination on the route of works by the Master of Cabestany and his workshop. The exhibition, located in the monks' dining room, gives more information about his art. The moulding of life-size sculptures of Saint-Papoul, Saint-Hilaire, Rieux-Minervois and le Boulou, is of an impressive quality.

The church

Built in the 12th century, the abbey church has changed significantly over the centuries. An apse chapel to the North of the choir stalls has preserved its Roman form, whilst the apse chapel to the South has been redesigned in the Gothic style. Simple Roman capitals here, an elegant tombstone of a 17th century bishop there, a Pietà from the 18th century... you can trace the styles of each period.

Baroque choir stalls

The eighteenth-century choir stalls are elaborately and elegantly decorated. Local artisans were mobilised: a sculptor of Saint-Papoul made the stalls and the wood decorations, a marble worker from Caunes-Minervois created the main alter, a stone worker from Toulouse decorated the choir stalls with white and grey stones.

The cloister

The current cloister reflects the Languedoc Gothic style from the beginning of the 14th century. The style of its capitals is similar to the capitals in Villelongue Abbey. Look out for ivy and oak leaves, vines, acanthus leaves, birds, lions, monkeys, monsters and dragons. One of the capitals depicts Saint Papoul holding his head in his hands, as a reference to his martyrdom.

Things to explore

As you walk

About

In the 19th century, Saint Papoul became known for its ceramics, tile-making and glazed pottery. The varnish was obtained from a mineral extracted from the Montagne Noire and ground in the Moulin du Vernis, or the Moulin d'Angel, which can be seen as you leave the village and head towards Villemagne. Four ceramic factories are still in use today, under the directive of the Deputy Mayor, the Marquis Alphonse d'Hautpoul. This Empire General, later a War Minister and President of the Council, is very active in his village, where he has lived his entire life. Today, clay mining continues the industrial and craft tradition of Saint Papoul.

Ceramics and the Empire General