Page A place of pilgrimage in priory of chamalieres sur loire du site de la commune de Chamalières sur Loire en Haute-Loire 43

A place of pilgrimage

The sanctuary of Chamalières is mentioned in the Guide to the pilgrim Way of Saint James, a Latin manuscript dating from around 1139. However, Chamalières also had its own pilgrimage…

In the beginning there were the relics of Saint Giles and a Holy Nail

After being gifted (around 927) to the church of Le Puy, bishop Gotescalc, the first French pilgrim on the Way of Saint James, gave the land at Chamalières to the Saint-Chaffre du Monastier abbey. At this time, Chamalières was a simple chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Around 943, Damas de Beaumont, the abbot of Saint Chaffre, brought the relic of Saint Giles from Saint-Gilles du Gard and a Holy Nail from the Cross, and officially founded the priory of Saint-Gilles de Chamalières, which he placed under the Rule of Saint Benedict.

The Saint Giles relic is of questionable authenticity. Besides the fact that there are numerous relics attributed to Saint Giles in other places, according to some texts Chamalières had a whole body, most of the body, or even part of an arm. Whatever the facts, Chamalières rapidly became an important place of pilgrimage.

Welcoming and enthusing the pilgrim

In 1097 the priory had 27 monks. However, they did not all live in Chamalères, like Pierre, for example, who, at the end of the 12th Century, was also the priest at Chalencon. Around 1160, in his very basic description of the monastery, Pierre de Beaumont described the housing of the period which was organised like a castrum (fortified camp), with the monastic buildings situated within the first enclosure, and the town, which was made up of 84 houses of which 13 were inhabited, found within a second enclosure. The same Prior described the estate’s resources: its 104 gardens spread throughout the village, and the vineyard which provided a setier of wine (about 25 litres).

The presence of the relics helped build the site’s reputation. The monks of Chamalières knew how to promote a destination to attract a large number of pilgrims. Processions regularly took place. They were an ideal opportunity to showcase the relics, particularly within the church. This is echoed by its unusual architecture which allows pilgrims to go around the choir while genuflecting at the altars of the four chapels which fan out from the apse.

Explaining and protecting our heritage

Today, the relics are no longer found on this site. The Holy Nail is kept in the museum of religious art in the cathedral cloister in Le Puy-en-Velay, and the relic of Saint Giles has disappeared.

This medieval garden and its interpretation trail brings to life the rich cultural heritage which the monks of Chamalières have left to us.