Marcevol Priory is situated at an altitude of 500 metres on a plateau overlooking the Tet Valley. The surrounding countryside is magnificent: to the north the Roc del Maure (775m), to the west the Pic de Bau (1025m), to the south the mystical Catalan peak- The Canigou (2785m). Not far from the priory is the 16th century chapel of ‘Notre Senyora de las Grades’, which overlooks the small hamlet.
Remains, such as a dolmen and an oppidum, show the existence of human occupation since the Neolithic era (4000BC). Traces of terrace cultivation,
pastoral tracks, green oaks, garrigue, and vines demark the Commune of Arboussols, to which the hamlet of Marcevol has been attached since 1822.
The Priory was built in the 12th century, by the religious order of Saint Sepulchre. In 1129 the Bishop of Elne donated them the small church of Nostre Senyora de las Grades, as well as some surrounding out-buildings. These were monks following the rules of Saint Augustine.
The Order of Saint Sepulchre was founded in 1099 after the crusades and the conquest of Jerusalem; its mission was to watch over Christ’s tomb. The Order quickly spread throughout Europe, and received possessions and donations. Marcevol was one of its communities from 1129 to 1484, the year the Pope ordered its dissolution.
In 1484 the building came under the aegis of a community of priests in the parish of VinĂ§a. It was at this time that an altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin was installed in the apse. The community also attached itself to the pardons of the Virgin organisation. This was an old tradition associated with the mother of a Pope travelling to Compostella. She was later buried in the parish church. Marcevol thus became a place of pilgrimage, attracting hundreds of pilgrims hoping to obtain Grace and Indulgence. It is the most important pilgrimage in the Conflent, and every 3rd May a mass is celebrated in Marcevol.
During the French Revolution, the Priory was sold as a National Property; it became the centre of a large agricultural exploitation. The buildings suffered from lack of repair. Then in the 1970’s, to prevent further decay and ruin, the Association de Monastir de Marcevols started doing voluntary building work. They made the Priory into a centre for people with spiritual, artistic and therapeutic callings. In 2001 the association became the ‘Fondation du Prieurie de Marcevol’. It is recognised as a public utility, and continues its public vocation by offering accommodation for groups and school trips, and other cultural activities.
The facade is orientated to the west. It is typical of 12th century Romanesque architecture: precision built with perfectly cut granite stone. The smooth characteristic of the stone is used to highlight the different materials in the composition.
The portal is made of pink marble from the quarries of Villefranche-de-Conflent. Two different coloured marbles are used for the lintel and the Tympanum . It is composed of an archivolt divided into several arches highlighted by a band of ‘dents d’engrenage’ . In the centre there is a door, with a fissured lintel and tympanum. The two doors are highly decorated with typical Catalan ironwork. Symmetric spirals nailed into the wood serve both to strengthen and decorate.
The window in pink marble has a similar composition to the portal. Much of the beauty of the facade is due to the existence of these two beautiful marble works in the stone wall. Also on the wall there are two pink marble plaques with inscriptions, marking the site of two tombs of 12th century priors.
The bell tower has been moved a little to the right, perhaps as a result of reconstruction after the earthquake of 1428.
To the right of the church, the present day entrance to the Priory is embedded in a wall built in many styles: herringbone , regular, sometimes
anarchic. The arrow slits and the gatehouse are evidence of the defensive role of the ramparts, probably built around the 14th century by demand
of the King of Aragon.
The cloister : in the interior of the courtyard, the presence of corbels on the south wall of the church and the foundations of the mur-bahut
show the existence of a former cloister, of which nothing remains.
However its existence was acknowledged in the 15th century, when the inhabitants of Arboussols came to take the oath to the new Prior.
The romanesque church was built between 1129 and 1160. Up until the early 11th century churches were usually built with wooden roofs. After the year 1000 the naves of churches were systematically covered with a stone vault, which became one of the characteristics of Romanesque architecture.
Saint Marie de Marcevol has three naves. The central nave is covered
with a rounded vault and opens out over the apse to the east. The vault
on the south side nave is lower and in the form of a quarter circle,
resting on the central nave. The one on the north has a different architecture,
and was probably reconstructed after the 1428 earthquake.
The walls of the Priory were completely covered with paintings. The south Apsidole still bears traces of a scene depicting Christ Pantocrator (from the Greek ‘pantos': all, and ‘crator': creator)
The scene shows Christ surrounded by angels seated in a ‘mandorle’. His right hand is raised in blessing and he is holding the Holy Scriptures
in his left. On each side we can see the letters from the Greek alphabet: ‘alpha and omega’, referring to the Apocalypse: « I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, he who is, who was, and will be, the Almighty ».
The flour miracle
The legend says that the mother of the direct successor to Saint Peter and the Papacy was buried in Marcevol. Here is the story: An old woman, on her way to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, arrived at Marcevol. She stopped, tired after her climb. A storm was threatening. A man returning from VinĂ§a, where he had been to mill his flour, stopped with his donkey. He saw the old woman; he took his flour from the donkey and took the woman to the Priory. Night fell and the storm broke. The old woman told the man not to worry about his sack of flour. The next day the man hurried back to fetch his flour, and he found the flour was completely dry. On returning to the Priory he found the old woman had died. After the solemn funeral service the old woman was buried under the altar of Notre Dame-de-las-Gradas