Midi-Pyrénées has more Cistercian abbeys than any other region in France, including Burgundy and the Paris region, opening up a vast array of possibilities for both historical and cultural exploration.
The Cistercian clan
Indeed, without renouncing their spiritual dimension, many of the region's Cistercian abbeys have taken on a new lease of life dedicated to the expression of art and knowledge.
These include in particular the abbeys of Sylvanès
(Hautes Pyrénées), Beaulieu
(Tarn et Garonne), masterpieces of stone united by a shared heritage and a shared destiny.
These Cistercian abbeys were all founded in the first half of the 12th century
, between 1132 (Sylvanès) and 1151 (Flaran). All of them flourished and became extremely powerful, before suffering the ravages of the Hundred Years' War (in the 14th century) and later the Wars of Religion (in the 16th century). Most of them were altered and embellished in the 17th and 18th centuries
. This also applied to other abbeys such as Saint Sever de Rustan
(Hautes Pyrénées), Benedictine in this case.
Ultimately, all these abbeys met their downfall during the French Revolution. Sold off and dismantled, they survived in the form of ruins of varying degrees of romantic appeal, left to the elements or used to store farm machinery.
The Benedictine abbey of Sorèze
was an exception
: this fine abbey was elevated to the rank of royal military school by Louis XVI, remaining so until 1991.
Back in favour with a broad public
Very fortunately, various people, institutions and passionate individuals came to the rescue of this fine heritage.
Flaran, Sorèze, Belleperche and Escaladieu were each purchased by their respective departmental councils. Sylvanès was saved by the Dominican friar André Gouzes and the talented Michel Wolkowitsky. Beaulieu was bought by a family of art lovers.
For often vast sums of money, various abbey churches, cloisters, chapterhouses and dormitories were restored, and these ancient buildings have now been given a new lease of life. Today they are home to art collections, choir and music festivals, concerts, courses and other events, re-connecting them with their influential role of days gone by.
The abbeys at Flaran (as part of the Flaran/Baïse/Armagnac collection), Sylvanès (associated with Millau Viaduct) and Sorèze (as part of the Sorèze/ Saint Ferréol collection) are Great Tourist Sites in Midi-Pyrénées