Vabres L'Abbaye - Cathedral - Walled village
Vabres L'Abbaye - Benedictine Abbey
Vabres L'Abbaye is located on the river Dourdou, 3km west of St-Affrique.
This ancient fortified village was the former seat of the Diocese of Vabres.
In 932 the Count of Toulouse gave the land of Vabrensis to the Benedictine Order in order to found a monastery.
Over the next centuries, the monks deforested and irrigated the surrounding plain.
They farm the land and grow vines on the slopes of nearby hills, and by 1317, Vabrensis was a flourishing agricultural estate.
In fact the whole region thrived!
The Pope therefore founded the diocese of Vabres and transferred 130 parishes from the diocese of Rodez, which had become too large.
He commissioned the construction of the cathedral and chapter and made the Abbey of Vabres the seat of the newly founded diocese.
The Bishops of Vabres L'Abbaye also took the title of Count.
They built the castle of St-Izaire and fortified the village during the Hundred Years War (14th/15th century).
They kept St-Izaire, which is located 15km west of Vabres L'Abbaye, as their summer residence until the 16th century.
The former Episcopal Castle of St-Izaire is now a Historical Monument open to the public.
The diocese of Vabres was suppressed at the French Revolution (1790).
The monks were expelled, the church sacked and the land of the diocese was re-transferred to the diocese of Rodez.
Vabres became officially registered as Vabres l'Abbaye in 1955.
Vabres L'Abbaye - Cathedral Church
The Eglise Saint-Pierre de Vabres, the former cathedral of the diocese of Vabres, is a perfect illustration of Southern Gothic architecture.
Construction began in 1330 and was completed in the early 16th century.
It nearly disappeared a few years later, during the Wars of Religion.
The troops of the Calvinist Duc d'Uzès indeed sacked it (as well as the Episcopal palace), burned the archives and stole the precious ornaments.
However, the church was restored in the 17th/18th centuries and the Bishop's Palace rebuilt a century later.
The coat of arms of the penultimate Bishop of Vabres L'Abbaye, Monseigneur Le Filleul de la Chapelle, stands above the portal.
The 18th century high altar was listed Historical Monument because of the exceptional quality of its sculptures and inlaid marble.
The renowned organ-builder Micot built the organ in 1761.
This instrument was also listed Historical Monument in 1948 because to its exceptional state of preservation.
The bell tower dates from the late 19th century.
Vabres L'Abbaye - medieval walled village
The village's fortifications were pulled down after the Wars of Religion, but the village has little changed since!
It indeed boasts a wealth of 15th, 16th and 17th centuries houses such as the Maison du Commandeur and Maison des Echevins - Aldermen's House.
One of the houses overlooking the church square has a 17th century sundial representing the God Jupiter.
The Pesquié Farm, on the outskirts of the village towards the hillside, still owns an ancient and well preserved dovecote.
Before the French Revolution, only the nobility and higher clergy were allowed to own such a building.
Pigeons' droppings indeed produced a very rich natural fertilizer used for cereal crops.
Vabres L'Abbaye boasts also the last remaining water mills of the region!
It stands by bridge Pont-Neuf and the dam that channels the river Dourdou, a capricious river that regularly flooded the village.
The Avenue du Pont Vieux is the ancient road that led to the cities of Nîmes and Montauban.
It runs past the late 15th century Chapel of Our Lady of Bethleem or Chapel of the Hermitage.
The tiny chapel stands next to the Pont Vieux, a magnificent Romanesque stone bridge built in 1270 and still in use.
Vabres L'Abbaye - Visigoth tombs
Vabres was already inhabited in the early Middle-Ages.
Vestiges of dwellings dating from the 5th century AD were uncovered on the hillside, near St-Apoly, the spring that supplied water to the abbey and its village.
Visigoth tombs, dating from the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries AD, were also uncovered on the hill's crest, along the path known as Chemin de Joncas.
Carved directly into the rock, they face the Valley of the Dourdou.
The Chemin de Joncas joins the Chemin des Crêtes, the old Roman cobblestone road that starts in St-Afrique and follows the hilltop.
Peyralbe viewpoint boasts a spectacular 360 degrees panoramic view of the Dourdou Valley, Vabres L'Abbaye and surrounding region.
The northern observation table-map details the various landscapes and their geology and the influence of erosion.
The southern table-map was produced from the survey initiated under the reign of Napoleon in the early 19th century.
It gives a detailed overview of the history of the diocese de Vabres.
Modern day Vabres L'Abbaye is a charming medieval village worth the detour, if only for its ancient and unusual history.
Coordinates: Lat 43.945401 - Long 2.835812