The old fortified village of St Papoul lies in the east of the Lauragais, between Castelnaudary and Revel at the foot of the “Montagne Noire” – it has managed to retain it’s picture-postcard-medieval charm with its narrow streets and half-timbered houses – which makes it a beautiful site, well worth visiting.
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After visiting the village, the abbey is an absolute must for a visit, representing one of the most exceptional collection of religious buildings in the Lauragais.
A bit of History …
The Benedictine abbey was founded in the 7th century, by Charlemagne on the site of the tomb of St Papoul.
Who was St Papoul?
St Papoul was know as “The Evangelist of The Lauragais” and was sent out to preach the good word to the Lauragais people by St Sernin (or Saturnin), the first bishop of Toulouse in the first half of the 3rd Century.
Papoul was martyred 3 kilometers from where the village lies today at a place called “L’Hermitage” in the valley of “Des Arnouls”, caught by the Lauragais people, who sliced the top of his skull off – legend has it that he bent down to pick up the top of his skull, from which a spring emanated from where it lay. The statues of St Papoul, show him holding the top of his skull in his hands.
A bit more history …
BÃ©renger – later to become Saint BÃ©renger, was a monk who led a strict life of an ascetic up until his death at St Papoul in the 11th century, who really attracted pilgrims and consequently riches to the abbey – his tomb was believed to be the site of miracles.
In 1119, St Papoul became a part of the Abbey at Alet, near Limoux, which was a rich and influential abbey at the time, but today is not much more than a large village.
The abbey didn’t play a huge part in the crusades against the Cathare heretics 1209 – 1229, although it holds the remains of an important Cathare noble from the Lauragais – Jourdain de Roquefort who died in 1233.
This is quite extraordinary, given the geographical proximity to such notable sites that figured in the Crusades against the Cathare heretics in the 13th century, such as; St Martin Lalande, LabÃ©cÃ¨de Lauragais, Castelnaudary and Les CassÃ©s.
The golden age of St Papoul came later in the 14th century with the creation of the Bishopric by Pope John XXII in 1317.
The second bishop of St Papoul, Raymond de Mostuejouls laid out the statutes that led to the abbey achieving the status of a cathedral in 1320.
Sacking and pillage …
The abbey suffered through the ages which was started by the pillage by the “Routiers” a band of armed bandits in 1361, it was then sacked by the Protestant troops of The Huguenots in 1595.
The cloisters were virtually destroyed in 1790 during the Revolution, which was the year in which the abbey disappeared to be down-graded to a parish church and the cloisters being sold for stone and rubble.
Renovation of the abbey occurred in the 17th and 18th century, which included the building of the episcopal palace and the complete renovation of the cloisters in 1840.
Look above your head …
St Papoul is a charmingly peaceful hybrid of Roman and Gothic architecture, with the abbey church dating back to the 12th century – the cloisters are a particularly peaceful place and the grounds around reveal some fantastic architecture.
There are notably sculptured column heads on the outside of the right side of the abbey that depict 3 allegorical scenes of Daniel in The Lions Den, which are in a great state of repair (see pictures above). The largest picture above, shows the lions licking the hands and feet of Daniel, when he is given the meal by the king.
There is a visitor’s centre open every day from April to November that conducts guided tours of the Abbey and cloisters.
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