The Abbey in the modern era - AbbayeDeLaCelle

Photo of the corridors of the Abbey of La Celle

Until the beginning of the 11th century, Benedictine abbeys represented the great majority of the monastic orders, and consequently received a large part of the donations from the faithful. This accumulation of wealth, when the monks had made a vow of poverty, led to the creation of a new order who wanted to return to greater rigour in the observance of the rule of St Benedict: the Cistercians. In order to distance themselves from the world, they established their abbeys in isolated or even insalubrious locations. These monks, Benedictines or Cistercians, then lost touch with the faithful as they lived isolated in their monasteries and in silence. So, the 13th century saw the appearance of new religious orders which established bases in towns and cities, closer to the faithful they preached to. Amongst these were the Dominicans and the Franciscans whose development was remarkably rapid, particularly in Provence.

Plan of the abbey in 1659, photo credit: Department of Bouches du Rhones.Donations from the faithful were therefore shared between the different religious communities and the Abbaye de la Celle’s resources were reduced. To this phenomenon a greater scourge was added: the Black Death which reappeared on numerous occasions throughout the 14th century and at the beginning of the 15th century. In places, the population was reduced by half. This reduction of the population had an economic impact on large landowners. Not all the land could now be cultivated, and financial returns were affected. As troubles never come alone, the region was ravaged by wars between the lords, in particular the one in the 14th century between Queen Jeanne and Charles de Duras for the inheritance of the County of Provence. Although the exterior wall of the church at the Monastery of La Celle may appear to be one of a stronghold, the walls around the grounds of the monastery did not protect the nuns from the combatants. They took refuge in Brignoles, in a house purchased for them by Queen Jeanne. On their return to their monastery, the nuns took certain liberties with the rules. They abandoned community life and use of the uncomfortable conventual buildings, and had houses built in the monastery grounds.

Plan of the abbey in 1659, photo credit: Department of Bouches du Rhones.

The main entrance to the school, photo credit Fabrice PaulWhen Mazarin became Abbot of Saint-Victor, he ordered an enquiry into the workings of the Abbey. Noticing the breaches of the rules, he ordered the reform of the monastery and transferred the nuns to Aix-en-Provence. Nuns who so wished could however end their life at La Celle provided that they did not recruit any novices. The last one died in 1692. The buildings were then converted into a farm. In Aix-en-Provence, the nuns gathered together in new buildings in the Mazarin district. They stayed there until the French Revolution which dissolved all the monastic orders and sent the nuns back to their families. The Monastery was converted into a school in 1795, Collège Mignet.

The main entrance to the school, photo credit Fabrice Paul