Thirty kilometres north-west (as the crow flies) of Montpellier, nestled between two rocky ridges deep in the Hérault Gorges alongside the Verdus stream, rests one of the oldest, most picturesque French villages: Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. It can take a little getting to, but with more than twelve centuries of history, including a UNESCO world-heritage listed abbey, this quaint little village is a must-see for any student (or just admirer) of medieval French or european history.


Pont du Diable ("Devil's Bridge")

Teddy has the kind folk at the Office de Tourisme Intercommunal in Gignac to thank for suggesting this stunning find. After a relatively short and otherwise uninspiring drive north from Gignac, Teddy entered the rugged hills of the Hérault Gorges and crossed the (also UNESCO world heritage listed) Pont du Diable (or “Devil’s Bridge”). This is a suitable introduction to the village Teddy was aiming for, as the bridge was not only built by monks, but also dates back more than a thousand years. [Because there are many bridges of this name in France, this particular one is often referred to as Pont du Diable Hérault.]

The lake here is a popular swimming and sunbathing spot for the locals. When Teddy visited there was quite a crowd along the shore, and a few hardier souls kayaking along the river.

A few more minutes north, deeper into the gorge, and the outbuildings of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert finally come into view. The village itself is very picturesque, with gorgeous stone buildings huddled closely together along cobbled streets, and lush gardens around every corner. It was quite surprising to find such a green oasis among the  barren rocky hills.


Lush gardens in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

As with many French villages, the visitor will find gorgeous buildings, fine restaurants, and great buildings. But the real treasure of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert lies at the very heart of the village.

The settlement now known as Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert was founded as a monastery in 804 by William of Gellone, the second Count of Toulouse (in Occitan, William is “Guilhem”). History notes that William presented the abbey with a piece of the true cross, which he received from his cousin Charlemagne. William retired to the abbey (now called the Abbey of Gellone) as a monk in 806, and eventually died there in 812 at which time he was buried under the abbey narthex.

As William’s reputation grew, so too did the number of pilgrims to the abbey, and thus the fame of the abbey.

William was a prominent figure in the book “Holy blood holy grail”, with the implication that he was a link between France and the supposed bloodline of the historical Jesus.

The abbey still stands, though obviously with much modification over the previous twelve hundred years. Similarly, the late 12th century Romanesque cloister, which underwent many transformations through the centuries, was systematically dismantled during the French revolution, much of it finding its way to The Cloisters in New York. Within the chapel of the cloister is a museum that proudly displays many original fixtures and tells the story of the abbey.

A visit to the abbey and the cloister still provides inspiration and wonder, much saw it must have done for countless pilgrims and monks over hundreds of years.


The cloister at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert


6 Responses to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

  1. Adriana says:

    thanks for [the post]!

  2. Fabiana says:

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  3. Edeolinda says:

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  4. Adira says:

    keep the good work [], as you always do.

  5. Deondina says:

    nice post, thanks.

  6. Daisy says:

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