Lérins Abbey is a Cistercian monastery on the island of Saint-Honorat, one of the Lérins Islands, on the French Riviera, with an active monastic community.
There has been a monastic community there since the 5th century. The construction of the current monastery buildings began around 1073. Today the monks cultivate vineyards and produce wine and liqueur.
The island, known to the Romans as Lerina, was uninhabited until Saint Honoratus founded a monastery on it at some time around the year 410. According to tradition, Honoratus made his home on the island intending to live as a hermit, but found himself joined by disciples (including Saint Caprais) who formed a monastic community around him. This had become "an immense monastery" by 427, according to the contemporary writings of John Cassian.
There is also a tradition that Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, studied here in the fifth century.
Saint Nazarius (Nazaire), the fourteenth abbot of the monastery of Lérins, probably sometime during the reign of the Merovingian Clotaire II (584-629) successfully attacked the remnants of heathendom on the southern coast of France, overthrew a sanctuary of Venus near Cannes, and founded on its site a convent for women, which was destroyed by the Saracens in the eighth century. His name is inscribed on the calendar of saints of the French Church, on 18 November.
In the 630s, Saint Agricola of Avignon was a monk here before being called to become bishop of Avignon.
The abbey provided three bishops for the diocese of Arles: Honoratius himself, followed by Hilarius and Cesarius in the fifth and sixth centuries respectively. Reputedly, Saint Patrick, patron of Ireland, studied at the monastery in the fifth century.
Over the following centuries, monastic life on the island was interrupted on several occasions by raids, mostly attributable to Saracens. Around 732, many of the community, including the abbot, Saint Porcarius, were massacred on the island by invaders. It is said that many of the monks escaped, because Porcarius had been warned of the attack by an angel and had sent them to safety.
A fortified monastery was built between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries.
In medieval times, the island became a very popular place of pilgrimage. This was encouraged by the writings of Raymond Féraud, a monk who composed a mythological life of Honoratus.
In 1635 the island was captured by the Spanish and the monks were expelled. They returned from exile in Vallauris two years later, when the island was retaken by the French.
The monastery continued to suffer from Spanish and Genoese attacks. The number of monks dwindled to four and, in the pre-revolutionary climate of the time, the monastery was disestablished in 1787. In the French Revolution, the island became the property of the state, and was sold to a wealthy actress, Mademoiselle de Sainval, who lived there for twenty years.
In 1859, the island was bought by the Bishop of Fréjus, who sought to re-establish a religious community there. Ten years later, a Cistercian community was established and has remained there since.
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