Nick Churton of Mayfair International Realty enjoys the wieght of history in a magnificent and ancient French priory.
Broker: Groupe Mercure
Following his victory in 785 against the Muslims in Al Andalus (now modern Spain) Charlemagne – king, Holy Roman Emperor and the ‘Father of Europe’ – had a chapel built not far from Perpignan to the north of the Pyrenees and about 15 miles from the Mediterranean. Later, in 1116, an Augustine community settled and developed the priory over the following centuries including the installation of a beautiful Gothic cloister in 1307.
Is this remarkable and historically important series of buildings now in the hands of a national organisation which has a mandate to protect and conserve important structures such as this? No it is not – although it has been classified as a national monument since 1875. Instead, it is on the market looking for a buyer seeking what must be one of the grandest privately owned ancient retreats of its kind in Europe.
Through his religious buildings Charlemagne created separate monastic communities within an extended and scattered manorial estate that formed a monastery within a monastery in the manner of a locked cloister. The open galleries, which typically ran along the inner courtyard walls of buildings, often formed a continuous walkway for exercise, work and reflection but also served as an architectural barrier between those who sought peace and seclusion from within and those who may have been tempted to spoil both from without.
So it is the intimate cloister that lies at the heart of this outstanding former priory. It forms a peaceful core to the building which is surrounded by high castle-like walls. Inside are 15 living rooms, 12 bedrooms, a chapel, vaulted wine cellars, a library, extensive attics and numerous domestic offices.
Many of us like the idea of getting away from it all from time to time. Monks have been doing this for centuries and it was the cloister that allowed them to go about their sacred work in all weathers away from the distractions of the laity. Today, living like a monk is not as popular as it once was. But somehow this astonishing building makes one feels a little less like a monk and rather more like a Charlemagne.