If you want to see one of the richest church treasuries in the world, then Paris should be your destination. Since March 14 and until June 16, the Louvre Museum presents the treasury of the Abbey of Saint Maurice in Valais, Switzerland (also called Abbey of Saint Maurice in Augaunum). The exhibition is a one of and not likely to be repeated within our lifetime.
The exhibition shows the most important of the treasures from the abbey's long history. The donors of these priceless treasures are a who is who in European history from 515 to the 20th century. If you want to see how light the 'Dark Ages' were, then your visit in the Louvre is imperative. For anyone interested in ecclesiastical art, it is an absolute must.
The Abbey of Saint Maurice has been inhabited by monks without interruption since 515, maybe since 315; it is the oldest working monastery of the Catholic Church. Before the monastery of Saint Maurice, there was a monastery dedicated to Saint Severin in place, dedicated in 315. Sainted King Sigismond of Burgundy (the first kingdom of that name) dedicated the new monastery on September 22 515.
The preparations for the 1,500 years jubilee include extensive restoration works in the abbey and the treasury, and it was more for safekeeping than for any other reasons that the exhibition in the Paris Louvre was organized. But as such things go, the exhibition has to be counted as one of the few you shouldn't miss for any money.
The Abbey of Saint Maurice is a territorial abbey; it doesn't belong to any diocese. The abbot of Saint Maurice is also Bishop of Bethlehem since 1840. Currently, the abbey convent houses a monastery with 38 monks and a nunnery with 50 nuns. From 515 to almost 900, the monastery ran the laus perennis (perpetual prayers) whereby monks kept mass going in a shift pattern over 24 hours. The custom was imported from the Eastern Church and became known as the 'custom of Augaunum' to be copie all over Western Europe.
To run such a shift pattern, large numbers of monks were needed which explains the rich endowment of the abbey from the start. What is more surprising is the fact that these treasures survived. The abbey occupies a strategic point at the entrance of the valley running to the Simplon pass and was therefore a point that any warlord had to control. The abbey had to house troops, pay huge ransoms, and was passed around like so much loot at times.
The Kings of Upper Burgundy (and later Burgundy second edition) made it a Royal residence and finances became mixed up between the abbey and the royal household. King Rudolf III restored the abbey's fortunes with huge donations prior to his death (and handing the kingdom to the Holy Roman Emperor as a bequest).
The exhibition is included in the cheap Louvre ticket (Euro 12). Don't hesitate to go, you won't get a second chance.
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