Finding our route from Toulouse to the “Medieval Feast of Grandselve Abbey” was quite an adventure in itself. The village the festival was taking place – Bouillac, in the Tarn-et-Garonne department of the southwest France, some 40 km northwest of Toulouse, a tiny 400 inhabitants community – was not even found by the GPS system, so we had to make it to the nearest bigger village and on the way there orient ourselves by looking for an ad-hoc filled in parking lot that always accompanies events like this.
The Medieval Festival was everything one can expect from this type of entertainment: stone carving and clay molding workshops, knights’ combat, horse shows, metal working and even wolves training demonstrations.
But what came as a complete surprise was the discovery of the Grandselves Abbey – of which I have never even heard before.
To be sure the actual abbey building is almost gone, demolished shortly after the French revolution, and sold as construction stone to the villages around. What is left is a “house like” building consisting of three rooms now used to expose artifacts recovered by archeological excavations or donated by the owners of the houses built with materials coming from the abbey.
On seeing the humble remains of the abbey one can hardly guess its two extraordinary legacies, one material and one spiritual: the monastery’s treasure and its history!
The treasure, that is on display in Bouillac church, is considered the second most valuable religious treasure in France after the one of the famous Abbey of Conques.
It consists of seven religious artifacts carved in silver, vermeil and brass in the gothic meridional style and decorated with precious stones including a reliquary containing a fragment of the Holy Cross, and the reliquary of Sainte Epine that was a gift from Alphonse de Poitier, brother of King Louis IX, known as Saint Louis, given to the monastery sometime in the second part of the 13th century.
The history of Grandselve Abbey is equally impressive. Founded in 1114 and following the Cistercian order, at the height of its prosperity in the 13th century it was the most important abbey in the south of France. Owner of vast agricultural lands obtained through donations – the furthest corner of the property was at a day walk from the abbey! -, the abbey had also an important commercial activity facilitated by the near port of Verdun-sur-Garonne.
The prestige of the abbey was such that, when the monks of Frontfroide monastery (near the town of Narbonne, on the Mediterranean coast) decided to follow the Cistercian order, they applied to Grandselve for their blessing.
Together with the King of France the Grandselve Abbey founded the towns of Beaumont-de-Lomagne and Grenade-sur-Garonne as well as the Saint Bernard College of University of Toulouse.
At the dawn of French revolution at the end of the 18th century the Grandselve Abbey was still a wealthy religious center, even though the number of the inhabiting monks had been by then in decline since few centuries.
On 21 August 1791, the abbey was sold as a national property and later dismantled and sold as construction material.
Hi, I am Carla. I am living and working in the beautiful city of Toulouse, France.
I like history, travel and... the southwest of France and try to share through this blog information about events that might be of interest to the travelers to this part of the world!