Abbaye Saint Victor de Marseille

The Benedictine abbey of Saint Victor is a venerable Church institution in Marseille. The first abbey of Saint Victor was built on the south side of the Old Port in the fifth century. The abbey became an important center for theology and scholarship, but within two centuries the abbey declined, serving for a time as the seat of the bishop of Marseille before it was sacked by the waves of Saracen and Greek pirates which repeatedly swept over the city.

After the counts of Provence assume protection of the city, the abbey of Saint Victor is rebuilt in the tenth century, followed by the convent of Saint-Saveur, and the monks adopt the order of Saint Benedict. The abbey controls many priories across Provence, Corsica, and Sardinia from which it derives revenue. With increasing civil strife between the viscounts of Marseille and the kings of Aragon, the abbey loses many of its seigneurial rights over the succeeding centuries, which are ceded to the municipality.

In the thirteenth century the abbey was rebuilt and the chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde established. A fourteenth century abbot of Saint Victor becomes Pope Urban V, and the abbey undergoes a renaissance, but by the fifteenth century the abbey experiences many of the signs of laxity and decline afflicting the Church across Europe; the monks abandon their habits and take up residence in the city. In the sixteenth century, the great library of the abbey simply disappears. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, there is talk of secularizing the abbey.

The abbey is named for Saint Victor of Marseille, the patron saint of the city. Victor was a Roman soldier in Marseille, then known as Marsilia, who converted in Christianity. He was imprisoned by the local proconsuls then sent to Rome where he was tortured. Despite his trials he converted three additional Roman soldiers during his captivity. All four were martyred, Saint Victor by crushing under a millstone, the others by beheading. Tradition holds that Saint Victor and the other martyrs, Longinus, Alexander, and Felician, are interred in the crypts below the abbey.

Beneath the abbey is an extensive crypt. The abbey was built on top of a Greek and Roman necropolis which later served as a Christian catacomb; the current crypt is the medieval abbey on which the current abbey is constructed. The crypt includes the tombs of several saints as well as other important figures of the Church and the county of Provence.

Abbaye Saint Victor de Marseille

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