The Saint Martin du Canigou abbey celebrated 1000 years of existence in 2009. Founded at the beginning of the 11th century by a great Catalan family, the abbey has known times both of glory and of obscurity. Thanks to the courage and perseverance of many men, the abbey was revived from its ruins in the beginning of the 20th century. Today the abbey remains faithful to its original vocation - to give praise to God's glory.
The Saint Martin du Canigou abbey was constructed by Guifred II, the great grandson of Guifred el Pelut, count of Conflet and of Cerdagne. Guifred II was helped by his younger brother, Oliba, a benedictin monk from the abbey of Saint Michel de Cuixà where he had been appointed pior in 1008.
The first consecration of the Saint Martin church was celebrated in November 1009. The Benedictine monks occupied the abbey for the next eight centuries. They lead lives completely given to God through prayer and in searching to "prefer nothing more than the divine worship" according to the teaching of their spiritual father, Saint Benedict. In 1779, one of the monks wrote in a letter that they were no longer more than five in number, all advanced in age and had barely enough to survive on. Thus they requested authorisation to leave the abbey. They left in 1783. The abbey was left abandoned, was confiscated during the French Revolution and then bought back by a property owner of the region. The capitals and columns disappeared and some of the stone was used elsewhere. After a few decades, the edifice was no longer more than a ruin.
Monsignor Jules de Carsalade du Pont, Bishop of Perpignan-Elne, inspired by the “rebirth” of the Catalan culture at the end of the 19th century, redeemed the ruined abbey in 1902 and undertook a major restoration project. The goal, much more important than to simply raise up the abbey's fallen stones, was to reestablish the initial spiritual vocation of Saint Martin du Canigou. Because "the founders called the sons of Saint Benedict to be forever on this renowned mountain which is like the heart of the Catalogne. They desired that from there, a prayer would ascend to heaven night and day." (Adapted from original text by the Monsignor de Carsalade du Pont). When the Monsignor, nicknamed "Bishop of the Catalans", passed away in December 1932, he left a restoration project that was already well underway. During a period of thirty years, many hearts and arms were raised up in contribution to this fascinating adventure.
In 1952 a Benedictine monk, Father Bernard de Chabannes, also discovered a passion for this project, to the point of leaving his original abbey to live at Saint Martin de Canigou for almost forty years. He followed in the spiritual tradition of his predecessor, having also a burning desire to share his love for God and for prayer with the numerous volunteers working on the physical construction of the abbey.
When Father de Chabannes became too old to guarantee a future at the abbey, Monsignor Chabbert, bishop of Pergignan, began a quest to find a community that could assure the continuation of the abbey's vocation. In 1988, he confided the abbey to the Community of the Beatitudes, along with a mission of prayer and spiritual and touristic hospitality.
The members of the Community of the Beatitudes enable the abbey’s spiritual vocation to continue by placing prayer at the heart of their lives; prayer in the forms of praise, adoration and supplication. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the major liturgical hours of the Church’s liturgy provide the rhythm for our daily life. We each take a turn to spend one hour of adoration in front of the Holy Sacrament; thus the Holy Sacrament remains exposed throughout the day and is seen by each tourist visiting the abbey!
Each year, several tens of thousands of people courageously mount the path leading to the abbey. These visitors, coming from diverse backgrounds, discover the beauty of the site through the guided visits offered. It is not uncommon even for visitors who are far from the Church and faith, to be touched by the peace emanating from this abbey which has been infused with prayer throughout centuries.
Among those who visit the abbey Saint Martin du Canigou and those who search God, many desire to spend a few days at the abbey for spiritual nourishment by sharing in the community’s prayer and the fraternal life. Why not give it a try?