Caunes-Minervois Abbey

The memory of stones

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At the foot of the Montagne Noire, Caunes-Minervois has a gentle, pink appearance; it sits on the banks of the Argent-Double, a lively small river which flows through the town. The town is full of ancient history: in the Abbey, in the marble quarries, in the roads etc.



 In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Church of Saint-Geniès was built in Buffens. In 791, Buffens, renamed "Caunes", belonged to the local Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul. It was protected by the Carolingian kings. In the 11th century, the village of Caunes developed close to the Abbey. During the Albigensian Crusade, the Abbey got considerably richer by acquiring confiscated good from Cathar infidels. Later on, the Abbey was marked by severe management difficulties and internal conflicts. When the Abbey was put in commendam (temporarily entrusted to a layperson) in 1467, Caunes already had the following customs: the abbot was no longer elected by the monks, he no longer resided in the abbey and the Rule of St Benedict was no longer respected. In around 1610, the abbot Jean d'Alibert brought in Italian quarrymen to exploit the marble quarries. Then, Jean Baux, a French architect and marble-worker, used Caunes marble to build the Louvre and Versailles. During the French Revolution, the monks left and Saint-Geniès became a stone quarry.

The doorway

The abbey church doorway opens up onto the side of the town. Its three arches rest on capitals decorated with greenery or marble. These capitals were made by a local sculptor copying the style of the Master of Cabestany, and are decorated with narrative scenes. The capitals depict the Massacre of the Innocents, the Annunciation and the Nativity. The doorway is preceded by a porch, with an impressive ribbed vault.

The eastern end of the Abbey

The bottom of the eastern end of the Abbey dates from the beginning of the 11th century, like St Martin du Canigou or Saint Philibert de Tournus. Between its columns, a red-ochre emphasises the line of the connections. The upper part, built in around 1060, is the opposite, with large openings and flat rectangular columns.

The towers

At each end of the transept are two towers dating from the 12th century. One houses the archives and treasure of the Abbey. The other, which remains unfinished, houses the bells. White marble capitals from the Visigoth period can be found in its Roman design.

Les marbres

Various marble statues stand side-by-side in the church. One statue, made of a blue-grey marble, comes from remains of early Christian burial tombs, is set in the paving stones. In the apse chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, the red Caunes marble contrasts with the three sculptures of the Virgin and Child surrounded by St Bernard and St Benedict, holding his book of precepts, all made from gleaming white Carrare marble.

The original Abbey

Located under the choir stalls, a crypt reveals the remains of the original eighth-century church. You can walk on and wonder at a cobblestone walkway ("calade") from the 12th century. A gallery from the first medieval cloister has been discovered under the current cloister, built at the end of the 17th century. And the search goes on...

Things to explore

As you walk

Par GilPe


©mairie de Caunes Minervois
Par David Gerke

Since 1984, a new experiment has been taking place on the banks of this precious river: planting a forest of 'sequoia sempervirens'. Although more slender than the giant sequoia, it is one of the tallest trees in the world. The 'Hypérion', in the Redwood National Park in the USA is 115m tall! Here in Caunes, the trees are already 26m high on average.

The forest of sequoias