Abbey of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune

The Abbey of St. Maurice, Agaunum (French: Abbaye de Saint-Maurice d'Agaune or Saint-Maurice-en-Valais) is a Swiss monastery of canons regular in Saint-Maurice, Canton of Valais, which dates from the 6th century. It is situated against a cliff in a section of the road between Geneva and the Simplon Pass (to northern Italy).[1] The abbey itself is a territorial abbacy and not part of any diocese. It is best known for its connection to the story of the martyrdom of the Theban Legion, its original practice of perpetual psalmody, and a collection of art and antiquity.

Abbey of St. Maurice
Abbaye de Saint-Maurice
Abbey bell tower (11th century)
Location within Switzerland
Monastery information
Other namesSaint-Maurice-en-Valais
OrderCanons Regular of St. Augustine
Dedicated toSaint Maurice
Founder(s)Sigismund of Burgundy
AbbotMost Rev. Jean César Scarcella, C.R.A.
Functional StatusAbbey
Heritage designationCultural Property of National and Regional Significance
Coordinates46.219358°N 7.003451°E / 46.219358; 7.003451

The abbey is now the center of the village, which was vacated in the mid 20th century and is wholly owned by the territorial abbey. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.[2]


The abbey of St. Maurice is built on the ruins of a Roman shrine of the 1st century B.C. dedicated to the god Mercury in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum, and first came to prominence as a result of a now disputed account by Eucherius, the Bishop of Lyon. He had experienced a revelation that convinced him of the martyrdom of a Roman legion—known as the Theban Legion—under the command of Saint Maurice, around 285 A.D., in the area where the abbey is located.

In 515, the Basilica of St. Maurice of Agaunum became the church of a monastery under the patronage of King Sigismund of Burgundy, the first ruler in his dynasty to convert from Arian Christianity to Trinitarian Christianity.

The abbey became known for a form of perpetual psalmody known as laus perennis that was practised there beginning in 522 or 523. The chants were sung day and night, by several choirs in rotation without ceasing. The practice continued there until the 9th century, when the monks were replaced by a community of canons.

The abbey had some of the richest and best preserved treasures in Western Europe, such as the Ewer of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune.

In the mid-9th century, Hucbert, brother-in-law of the Emperor Lothair II, seized the abbey. In 864 he was killed in a battle at the Orbe River and was replaced by the victor, Count Conrad of Auxerre, who later became the commendatory abbot of the abbey.

Boso, later King of Provence, (850-887) received the abbey around 870 from his brother-in-law, Charles the Bald. Conrad's son, Rudolph I of Burgundy, who had inherited the commendatory abbacy from him, succeeded Boson as king and was crowned in 888 in a ceremony at the abbey itself, which he then made the royal residence. The offspring of Conrad of Auxerre became the Kings of Burgundy, in a line running from Rudolf I to Rudolf III. They directed the abbey until around the year 1000. The monastery remained the property of the Kingdom of Burgundy until 1033, when, through the defeat in battle of Eudes, a nephew of Rudolf III, it passed to the control of the House of Savoy. Amadeus III, Count of Savoy, became the commendatory abbot of the monastery in 1103 and worked to revive religious observance at the abbey by installing there, in 1128, the community of canons regular, who still live there under the Rule of St. Augustine, in place of the secular canons.

Throughout the history of the abbey, its strategic mountain pass location and independent patronage has subjected it to the whims of war. The abbey was often forced to pay ransom or house troops. In 1840, Pope Gregory XVI conferred the title of the See of Bethlehem in perpetuity on the abbey.[3]

Today the abbey consists of some 40 canons, with 2 lay brothers. The Most Rev. Abbot Joseph Roduit, C.R.A., who was elected in 1999, resigned with the permission of Pope Francis on Wednesday, 18 March 2015, so the abbatial office is vacant.[4] The canonical community serves both the spiritual needs of the territory of the abbey nullius as well as five parishes in the Diocese of Sion. The canons also operate a highly ranked secondary school.[5]


The abbey has been built and rebuilt over a period of at least 15 centuries. Excavations on the site have revealed a baptistry dating to the 4th and 5th centuries, a series of four main Carolingian era churches built over one another dating from the 5th to the 11th century, and crypts built between the 4th and 8th century.

The current church was first built in the 17th century while the tower dates to the 11th century. Preceding Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral in 946, Chartres Cathedral ca. 1020 and Rouen Cathedral ca. 1030, the abbey was an early example of an ambulatory plan with radiating chapels.[6] The Romanesque tower was reconstructed in 1945 to repair damage caused by a massive falling rock. The newly installed carillon is the largest built to date in Switzerland.[7]

See also


  1. 1826 painting of the pass and bridge by Richard Parkes Bonington, (website accessed September 27, 2006).
  2. "Kantonsliste A-Objekte". KGS Inventar (in German). Federal Office of Civil Protection. 2009. Archived from the original on 28 June 2010. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  3.  Vailhé, Siméon (1907). "Bethlehem". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company..
  4. "Mgr. Joseph Roduit". Conférence des Évêques suisses (in French).
  5. "Actualités". Collège de l'Abbaye St-Maurice. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  6. "Buildings". History of Art and Visual Culture. Archived from the original on 2001-06-09. Retrieved September 26, 2014.
  7. Friedrich, Andreas; Roten, François. "New Carillon for the Abbey of Saint-Maurice". World Carillon Foundation. Retrieved September 26, 2014.
  • The Abbey of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune (in English)
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