Abbaye Saint Hilaire: Ancient hallowed walls in Vaucluse (Provence)

Explore the historic Abbaye Saint Hilaire near the town of Ménerbes in the Vaucluse department of Provence, France.
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The small Abbey Saint Hilaire is one of those ancient buildings that you can stumble on in France. Full of history on the slope towards the area known as the Luberon Valley, it is near several of the most beautiful villages in Provence. Some popular stops nearby are the hilltop town of Ménerbes, Lacoste, Bonnieux, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Roussillon.

I should note that there are two famous Abbaye Saint Hilaires in the south of France. There is one near Carcassone in the town of Saint Hilaire, as well as this one which is in the Vaucluse department of Provence, near the Luberon.

The Abbaye Saint Hilaire in Vaucluse is not as popular as its nearby neighbor the Abbaye Notre Dame de Sénanque in Gordes which is famous for its lavender fields. But is still very well known around these parts. (The two abbeys are around 11 miles (18 km) away from each other.)

So let’s have a look at what there is to see at Abbaye Saint Hilaire, shall we? Allons-y!

Construction and history

The Abbaye Saint Hilaire in the Vaucluse is believed to have been founded in the 12th century dedicated to one of the provençal local saints, Saint Hilaire, a monk who came to the area to spread Christianity.

It was built by the Carmelites monks, hermits from Mount Carmel in the Holy Land who were displaced, and built a convent here after arriving in France. It is about 5 miles from the old Roman road, the via Domitia which connected the towns of Cavaillon to Apt, and near the ancient Roman Pont Julian.

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Archeology digs behind the Abbaye Saint Hilaire

It remained occupied by the Carmelites until 1656, when the Bishop of Cavaillon got Pope Alexander VII to allow for the seizure of the convent of Saint-Hilaire in favor of his “small seminary”.

The Carmelites were violently expelled and appealed to the French Sun King Louis XIV, arguing that they were supposedly founded by his illustrious ancestor, Saint King Louis on his return from the Crusades. In 1660, they gained cause and the priory was again regularly occupied by a couple of monks.

However, the number of monks living here continued to diminish over the centuries and around the time of the 1789 French Revolution the priory de Saint-Hilaire was sold to a manufacturer of fabrics from Avignon.

It was alternatively used as a barn, a stable, warehouse, etc. falling into disrepair. In 1961, it became a private property when René and Anne-Marie Bride acquired it and began restorations to preserve the building. It was listed as “monument historique” by the French government in 1975.

Today, the abbey is open to visitors and it is a popular tourist destination for those coming to nearby Ménerbes. Visitors can explore the ruins of the abbey, including the cloister and chapel, as well as the beautiful surrounding Provençal countryside.

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The Abbaye and its Acoustics

The Priory itself is quite small but it has wonderful acoustics. We were invited to sing a song inside, just to hear it for ourselves.

There are archeologists working in Abbaye Saint Hilaire trying to uncover the life of the Carmelite monks who lived there in the past and you can see some of their digs in action. There are also faint frescos on the walls of the abbaye, much of which has faded and is not as apparent to the naked eye.

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How to get to Abbaye Saint Hilaire?

The Abbaye St. Hilaire in Vaucluse is only accessible by car. The city of Avignon is the largest big city nearby with high-speed train TGV access. It is about 30 miles (50 km) away from Abbaye Saint Hilaire.

There is a large parking lot about 600 yards away from the Abbaye, as well as a parking lot closer to the Abbaye for handicap access. (The road that covers the last few yards to get to the handicap access parking lot is quite a bumpy one, so I recommend parking at the parking lot further away.)

How long does the visit take?

A visit inside Abbaye Saint Hilaire takes around 2 hours if you want to explore fully and walk around the nearby countryside. It is a beautiful part of untouched Provence, and is well worth a visit.

Where should you stay?

If you are looking to visit there are some wonderful lodging options around the nearby town of Ménerbes:

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If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around Provence. A bientôt!

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