Abbey of Combelongue

Founded in 1138 by the Earl de Pallars, Pallars was a great Earldom beside Aragon on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees. The Pallars were a very important family in Spain with ties to the King of France. They owned lands north and south of the Pyrenees. The Earl founded the Abbey for one of his sons, Antoine, who became the first Abbé of Combelongue. Louis VII was a guest there while en route to St. Jacques de Compostelle in 1154. It was rich and prosperous up to the fourteenth century. After that it declined during the religious wars, but was maintained right up to the French revolution. It was secularised, made a possession of the State and later passed in to private ownership.

It is known that the Abbey was twice the size it is now and possibly larger. It had a Roman style church of which a big part still exists. One feature is that it had a transept much higher than the nave. At the side of the church was a cloister which measured 38 meters on all its four sides. The cloister of the Abbey of Moissac measures 42 meters on its four sides which makes one appreciate the importance of the Abbey of Combelongue in its time.

The Abbey has two features which qualify it as one of the most original Roman monuments of the Ariege

Firstly the Abbey is constructed from brick. All other constructions of the same period are made of stone, a material abundant in the region. The use of brick was a deliberate aesthetic choice.

Secondly the ornamental motifs used, especially on its exterior. The arches are not round as in Roman arches, but slightly pointed. They are reminiscent of Mudéjar art, as are many other ornamental details of the Abbey. Mudéjar art is the influence of Arabic art in western construction after the Christian conquest. After the Moors were beaten, some stayed behind, especially in Spain, employed as masons. They were called Mudéjar, hence the name of their style of art. It is peculiar that their art manifested itself throughout Spain, but hardly in France. The explanation is that the Earl of Pallars brought an architect to build the Abbey from Spain. The Abbey underwent reconstruction after the religious wars which explains the use of stone in several segments of wall.

Fragments of the cloister are on display and now and then some pieces still turn up. As did a pillar, which an inhabitant of Rimont found used as a baluster of the stairway in his house. He donated it to the Abbey.

All photos copyright © to ACW ten Broek