Ligugé Abbey

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St. Martin's Abbey

Ligugé Abbey, also St. Martin's Abbey, Ligugé, is a Benedictine monastery in the present commune of Ligugé in the département of Vienne, and in the diocese of Poitiers, and one of the earliest monastic foundations in France.

First foundation[edit]

It was founded in about 360, under a dispensation from the bishop Hilary of Poitiers, by Hilary's protegé Saint Martin of Tours, to whom it was later dedicated. The site was described as "deserted" in early chronicles of the abbey, such as the account of Bishop Gregory of Tours, who made a pilgrimage to the abbey in 591, but modern excavations have identified a Gallo-Roman villa at the site.[1] The reputation of the founder attracted a large number of disciples to the new monastery; the disciples initially living in locaciacum or small huts, this name later evolved to Ligugé. When however Martin became Bishop of Tours and established the monastery of Marmoutier a short distance from that city, the fame of Ligugé declined considerably.

Among Saint Martin's successors as abbots of Ligugé may be mentioned Saint Savin, who resigned the post of abbot to become a hermit, and Abbot Ursinus, during whose rule the monk Defensor compiled the well-known "Scintillarum Liber"[1].

The invasion of the Saracens, the wars of the dukes of Aquitaine with the early Carolingians, and lastly the Norman invasion were a series of disasters that almost destroyed the monastery. By the eleventh century it had sunk to the position of a dependent priory attached to Maillezais Abbey, and finally reached the lowest level as a benefice held in commendam.

One of the commendatory priors, Geoffrey d'Estissac, a great patron of literature and the friend of Rabelais, built the existing church, a graceful structure but smaller by far than the ancient basilica which it replaced.


In 1607 Ligugé ceased to be a monastery and was annexed to the Jesuit college of Poitiers, which it served as a country house until the suppression of the society in 1762.

At the French Revolution the buildings and lands were sold as national property, the church being used for some time as the Municipal Council chamber. With the revival of the Roman Catholic Church under the Bourbon restoration, the building was constituted a parish church.

Second foundation[edit]

In 1849 Louis-Edouard-François-Desiré Pie, afterwards cardinal, became Bishop of Poitiers. He was the intimate friend of Dom Prosper Guéranger, re-founder of the French Benedictine Congregation, and in 1852 he established at Ligugé a colony of monks from Solesmes Abbey. At first a priory, the new foundation was raised in 1864 to an abbey by Pope Pius IX, and Dom Léon Bastide was appointed first abbot.

In 1880 the monks were driven from the abbey by the "Ferry Laws"; many of them retired under Dom Bourigaud, the successor of Dom Bastide, to Silos Abbey in Spain, which they rebuilt and saved from extinction.

Some years later the buildings at Ligugé were sold to a civil syndicate, by which they were leased to the abbot and community who were thus enabled to re-enter their monastery, where they established the abbey publishing house. Novices now came in considerable numbers and in 1894 the ancient Fontenelle Abbey in the Bishopric of Rouen was resettled by a colony from Ligugé.

Among the novices and postulants at this period were Joris-Karl Huysmans and Paul Claudel, who wrote of their experiences at Ligugé in "L'Oblat" and "Partage de Midi" respectively.

In 1902 the community were again driven out, this time by the "Association Laws", and settled in Belgium at Chevetogne in the Bishopric of Namur. On their return, they had the abbey church re-constructed: it was consecrated on 12 October 1929.

During World War II the abbey gave shelter to Robert Schuman, the future distinguished French politician and champion of the European Union, in August 1942 while he was waiting for passage to the free zone, as well as to Amadou Bow of Senegal, future director of UNESCO. Father Lambert of the community, a member of the Resistance, was put to death in the camp at Wolfenbüttel on 3 December 1943.

After the war an enamelling workshop was set up here.

The community, as of 2005, consisted of 28 members.

Abbots of Ligugé (Second foundation)[edit]

  • Dom Léon Bastide 1864-1880
  • Dom Joseph Bourigaud 1880-1907
  • Dom François-Léopold Gaugain 1907-1937
  • Dom Pierre Basset 1937-1954
  • Dom Gabriel Le Maître 1954-1963
  • Vacancy"" 1963-1966
  • Dom Pierre Miquel 1966-1990
  • Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat 1990-


  1. ^ printed in "Patrologia Latina", LXXXVIII.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 46°31′2″N 0°19′52″E / 46.51722°N 0.33111°E / 46.51722; 0.33111