Abbey of Lerins
Situated on an island of the same name, now known as that of
Saint-Honorat, about a league from the coast of Provence, in the
Department of the Maritime Alps, now included in the Diocese of
Nice, formerly in that of Grasse or of Antibes. It was founded at
the beginning of the fifth century by St. Honoratus. This saint
lived there at first the life of a hermit, but followers soon
gathered around him. They came from all parts of Roman Gaul and
even from Brittany. During the fifth, sixth, and seventh
centuries, the influence exerted by the abbey was considerable.
The presence of the Saracens in Provence made the monastic life
impossible or precarious for two centuries. The abbey was restored
in the eleventh century, and a new era of prosperity began. It was
given many estates and churches in the neighbouring Dioceses of
Antibes, Aix, Arles, Frejus, Digne, Senez, Vence, Nice,
Ventimiglia, etc. The popes, the counts of Provence, and the kings
of France bestowed on it many privileges. The monks were obliged
during the Middle Ages to take an active part in defending the
coasts against incursions of the Moors of Algeria. A monumental
tower, built as a place of refuge, is still standing. The abbey
was an important strategic position in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries during the Franco-Spanish wars. The
commendam was introduced at Lerins in 1464. There was a crying
need for reform. The monks were placed under the Italian
Congregation of St. Justina of Padua (1515), which brought about
for the monastery a long era of prosperity, both spiritual and
material. The subsequent union with the French Congregation of St.
Maur (1637) was of brief duration. A century later the monks were
obliged to leave the Italian congregation to become a part of
Cluny. The decline had already commenced; it steadily increased
until the time of suppression (1791). The religious had followed
the Benedictine Rule from the seventh century onwards.
During the first period of its history, Lerins gave to the Church
celebrated bishops and writers. Through them the abbey played an
important role. Such were St. Honoratus, his successor St. Hilary,
and St. Caesarius, Archbishops of Arles; St. Maximus and Faustus,
Bishops of Riez, St. Eucherius, Bishop of Lyons; St. Lupus, Bishop
of Troyes; St. Valerianus, Bishop of Cimiez; St. Salvianus, Bishop
of Geneva, St. Veranus, Bishop of Vence; and the celebrated
Vincent de Lerins. The presence of so many writers in one
monastery has given rise to the belief that it was a theological
school, which, however, it was not. Lerins had a reputation for
learning, but it had no organized teaching body. The part given to
the monks of Lerins in the editing of certain legends by M.
Dufourcq is strongly contested. We find no writer of note from the
seventh to the thirteenth century; after that came the troubadour
Raymond Feraud; then Giovanni Andrea Gregorio Cortese, who died in
1548; Dionysius Faucher, who died in 1562; the historian of the
abbey, Vincent Barralis, who died at the beginning of the
Besides these writers and bishops, Lerins had also many monks of
great sanctity; we must mention St. Antonius; the holy abbot and
martyr Aigulf, who introduced the Benedictine Rule about 661;
Abbot Porcharius II, who was massacred with his monks by the
Saracens about 732. St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, lived
some time in the monastery, as well as St. Cassian, founder of the
monastery of St. Victor at Marseilles.
The abbey was restored by the Congregation of Senanque in 1868.
They preserved whatever remained of the ancient monastic
buildings, that is to say the cloister, the refectory, and the
chapter hall, which they enclosed in the new abbey. The fortress,
of which the construction was begun in 1073 as a place of refuge
in case of sudden attack, is fairly well preserved. The records,
as well as the manuscripts of the old library, are in the archives
of the Maritime Alps at Nice. Few monasteries have a history to
which so much attention has been devoted as that of Lerins.
Transcribed by Michael C. Tinkler
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the
Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright © 1996 by
New Advent, Inc.
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