St. Maurice's Abbey

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St. Maurice's Abbey bell-tower

St. Maurice's Abbey (French: Abbaye de Saint-Maurice d'Agaune or Saint-Maurice-en-Valais) is a historical building in Saint-Maurice, Canton of Valais, Switzerland. It is situated against a cliff in a section of the road between Geneva and the Simplon Pass (to northern Italy).[1] The abbey itself is a territorial abbacy and not part of a diocese. It is best known for its connection to the story of the martyrdom of the Theban Legion, its practice of perpetual psalmody, and a renowned collection of art and antiquity. The abbey is the center of the picturesque village, which was vacated in the mid 20th century and is wholly owned by the territorial diocese. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.[2]


St. Maurice's Abbey is built on the ruins of a Roman shrine of the 1st century B.C. to the god Mercury in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum, and first came to prominence as a result of a now disputed account by Saint Eucherius, Bishop of Lyon. Eucherius experienced a revelation that convinced him of the martyrdom of a Roman legion, known as the "Theban Legion", under the leadership of Saint Maurice, around 285 A.D., in the area where the abbey is located.

In 515, the basilica of St. Maurice of Agaunum became the church of a monastery under the patronage of King Sigismund of Burgundy, the first ruler in his dynasty to convert from Arian Christianity to Trinitarian Christianity.

The abbey became known for a form of perpetual psalmody known as laus perennis that was practised there beginning in 522 or 523. The chants were sung day and night, by several choirs in rotation without ceasing. The practice continued there until the early ninth century.

The abbey had some of the richest and best preserved treasures in Western Europe.

In the mid-ninth century, Hucbert, brother-in-law of the Emperor Lothair II, seized the abbey. In 864 he was killed in a battle at the Orbe river. He was replaced by the victor, Conrad, Count of Auxerre. The offspring of Conrad became the kings of Burgundy, from Rudolf I to Rudolf III. They directed the abbey until around the year 1000.

Boson of Provence (879-887) received the abbey in 871 from his brother-in-law Charles the Bald. The lay abbot of the abbey succeeded Boson as king and was crowned Rudolf I in 888 in a coronation ceremony at the abbey itself.[3] In 1840, Pope Gregory XVI conferred the title of the See of Bethlehem in perpetuity on the now independent St. Maurice's Abbey.[4] Throughout the history of the abbey, its strategic mountain pass location and independent patronage has subjected it to the whims of war. The abbey was often forced to pay ransom or house troops. Today, it operates a highly ranked secondary school for boys.[5]


The abbey has been built and rebuilt over a period of at least 15 centuries. Excavations on the site have revealed a baptistry dating to the 4th and 5th centuries, a series of four main Carolingian era churches built over one another dating from the 5th to the 11th century, and crypts built between the 4th and 8th century. The current church was first built in the 17th century while the tower dates to the 11th century. Preceding Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral in 946, Chartres Cathedral ca. 1020 and Rouen Cathedral ca. 1030, the abbey was an early example of an ambulatory plan with radiating chapels.[6] The Romanesque tower was reconstructed in 1945 to repair damage caused by a massive falling rock. The newly installed carillon is the largest built to date in Switzerland.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1826 painting of the pass and bridge by Richard Parkes Bonington, (website accessed September 27, 2006).
  2. ^ "Kantonsliste A-Objekte". KGS Inventar (in German). Federal Office of Civil Protection. 2009. Retrieved 25 April 2011. 
  3. ^ Cawley, Charles, title-date=3 May 2011 Provence, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, retrieved August 2012 ,[better source needed]
  4. ^ PD-icon.svg Vailhé, Siméon (1907). "Bethlehem". Catholic Encyclopedia 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company. .
  5. ^, website, accessed September 26, 2007.
  6. ^, website, accessed September 27, 2006.
  7. ^, website, accessed September 27, 2006.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 46°13′10″N 7°00′12″E / 46.219444°N 7.003333°E / 46.219444; 7.003333