St. Maurice's Abbey

St. Maurice's Abbey ( _fr. Abbaye de Saint-Maurice d'Agaune) in the modern town of Saint-Maurice, Canton of Valais, Switzerland, anciently the Roman staging-post of Agaunum, now in the diocese of Sion, is situated against a cliff in a picturesque section of the Simplon Pass between Geneva and northern Italy. [, website accessed September 27, 2006.] The abbey itself is a territorial abbacy and not part of a diocese. It is best known for its connection to stories of martyrdom of the Theban legions, its practice of perpetual psalmody, and a renowned collection of art and antiquity.


St. Maurice's Abbey is built on the ruins of a 1st Century B.C. Roman shrine to the god Mercury in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum, and first came to prominence due to a now disputed account by St. Eucherius, Bishop of Lyon. Eucherius experienced a revelation that convinced him of the martyrdom of a Roman legion, known as the "Theban Legion", around 285 A.D., in the area where the abbey is located.

In 515, the basilica of St. Maurice of Agaunum became the center of a monastery under the patronage of King Sigismund of Burgundy, the first ruler in his dynasty to convert from Arian Christianity to Trinitarian Christianity.

The abbey became known for a form of perpetual psalmody known as laus perennis that was practised there beginning in 522 or 523. The chants were sung day and night, by several choirs in rotation without ceasing. The practise continued there until the early ninth century.

The abbey had some of the richest and best preserved treasures in Western Europe.

Boson of Provence (879-887) received the abbey in 871 from his brother-in-law Charles II "le Chauve". The lay abbot of the abbey succeeded Boson as King and was crowned King Rudolf I in 888 in a cornation ceremony at the abbey itself. [, website accessed September 27, 2006.] In 1840, Pope Gregory XVI conferred the title of see of Bethlehem in perpetuity to the now independent St. Maurice's Abbey. [, Catholic Encyclopedia, New, website accessed September 27, 2006.] Throughout the history of the abbey, its strategic mountain pass location and independent patronage has subjected it to the whims of war. The abbey was often forced to pay ransom or house troops. Today, it operates a highly-ranked secondary school for boys. [, website, accessed September 26, 2007.]


The abbey has been built and rebuilt over a period of at least 15 centuries. Excavations on the site have revealed a baptistry dating to the 4th and 5th centuries, a series of four main churches built over one another dating from the 5th to the 11th century, and crypts built between the 4th and 8th century. The current church was first built in the 17th century while the tower dates to the 11th century. Preceding Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral in 946, Chartres Cathedral ca. 1020 and Rouen Cathedral ca. 1030, the abbey was an early example of an ambulatory plan with radiating chapels. [, website, accessed September 27, 2006.] The Romanesque tower was reconstructed in 1945 to repair damage caused by a massive falling rock. The newly installed carillon is the largest built to date in Switzerland. [, website, accessed September 27, 2006.]


External links

* [ Abbaye de Saint-Maurice d'Agaune: official website] en icon, fr icon

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