Visits

The Hermitage of Saint Martial

 

History

Discovered and then inhabited by Saint Martial in the 2nd Century these rocky caves in the cliffs were developed as a home for monks in the 4th Century.

In those days the sea came in as far as the base of the cliffs. Sailors in distress were able to find a refuge, thanks to a tower on the cliffs above the hermitage acting as a navigation mark (amer = seamark). Later the grottos were used as a stopover point for pilgrims on their way to Saint Jacques de Compostelle.

In 1580 during the wars of religion the monks were forced out and it was not until 1698 that a new monk, J Boucher, restored and gave new life to the caves. The Revolution of 1789 once again expelled the monks then inhabiting the caves and in 1792 the caves became a national possession in which several families lived until 1878 when it was resold to the bishopric to which it had always belonged.

 

 

Architecture

The Hermitage is one of the oldest monolithic sites in France. The Hermitage Saint Martial was hollowed out more than thirty metres up the cliff by sailor-monks and ferrymen.

At that time the waters of the estuary lapped the base of the cliffs. The work of the monks was to help travellers cross the estuary to the shores of the Médoc. There was a passageway at the top of the cliff which led to the Hermitage down a flight of 76 steps through an impressive 30 metre archway. The tower on the cliff above the hermitage acted as a navigation point  as well as a bell tower.

Inside  you can see a storeroom, a kitchen, an oratory and two dormitories.

 

 

The Chapel

The most striking place is the Chapel which is like those to be found in Greece and in Turkey. Thanks to the carefully located windows cut through the rock, the altar and the statues of Saint Martial and Saint Anthony of Egypt are bathed in light whatever the time of day.

The Christian Orthodox appearance of the Chapel is dramatically enhanced by the Coptic cross on the altar, by the Byzantine half cross at the foot of the altar, and by the ambulatory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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