Royal Convent, Saint-Maximin
Couvent Royal - Provence Beyond
Saint Maximin's Royal Convent is a beautiful building arranged in a square around an open-air cloister. The Couvent Royal abuts the north side of the taller Basilica, and was built at the same time, begun in 1295 by order of Charles II d'Anjou.
The Convent building comprises an inverted "U" (PHOTO), with the north and east wings today a hotel and restaurant. The St-Maximin Office de Tourisme (OT) is located in the west wing of the square. There is no southern wing, as the Basilica forms the southern wall. The covered aisle of the cloister, with its beautiful vaulted ceiling, makes a complete square.
The entrance to the cloister is through the Office de Tourisme, in the right-hand corner of Place Jean Salusse, by the back wall of the Hotel de Ville building. You enter the tourist office, then straight across to a glass door that enters into the Cloister.
Entry hours for the Cloister is 9h-12h30, 14h-18h; Sunday 10h-12h30, 14h-17h30.
If the tourist office is closed, you might be able to enter the cloister from the hotel, but we haven't tried that.
The Cloister is a lovely open area (Photos-07 to 09). On the eastern side are outdoor tables for the hotel's dining room. When we were there last, a group was having a leisurely lunch beneath the shade of a low tree.
The Cloister Aisles have eight bays on each of the four sides, with graceful cross-ribbed vaults. The light filtering down into the Cloister and through the pillars gives a rich, golden light, and a very peaceful feeling.
The ancient Monks' dining hall (réfectoire) and a low vaulted chapel open from the cloister aisles.
There are a pair of ancient, elaborately painted sundials on the interior walls, but both rather faded. The sundial on the East wall is mostly gone, but the one on the north wall (south facing, of course) retains some of the original elaboration.
History of Royal Convent, Saint-Maximin
Saint Maximin's Royal Convent was built in the 13th century, at the same time as the attached Basilica. The Convent was run by the Dominicans, and 24 monks were installed in 1316. It wasn't until the 15th century that the second story was completed, and 48 monks were lodged. By the 17th century, the roof was raised, with dormers added, and the common dormitories were converted to individual cells.
The monks were thrown out during the French Revolution, and the Convent was left unused. During the time of the terreur, the monks' cells in the North and East wings were converted to prisons.
The old dining hall was used for meetings by the "Club Patriotique", where Lucien Bonaparte gave some of his first speaches.
Father Lacordaire repurchased the convent in 1859 and restored the Brothers from Saint Maximin. During this time, the chapel and the West wing, destroyed during the Revolution, were restored. The Dominicans remained in residence until 1957.