Page The rise of the priory du site de la commune de Chamalières sur Loire en Haute-Loire 43

The rise of the priory

When the first monks arrived at Chamalières they found a local population in-situ. The land was already cultivated. However, the monks gradually put into place a farming system and a service economy to develop their priory.

The Benedictine monks devoted themselves daily to the contemplative life, to prayer and chanting, which implies that it was the local peasants who had to look after the land which provided their sustenance.

From rural priory to powerful estate owners

The priors steadily built up a powerful estate. They encouraged, in particular, the alleutiers (free peasants) to place themselves under the dependence of the priory in return for financial compensation and absolution of their sins, or the possibility of placing one of their sons at the monastery.

The obligations to the priory implied paying tithes, one third of the crop, chores, and all the obligations associated with the status of being under the control of a temporal Lord.

A family which placed a child at the priory had to be able to feed the future monk for the rest of his life. This meant, at the very least, having a farm, or even two, to guarantee the future monk’s ‘dowry’.

Even though Chamalières itself stayed relatively small, the Priory estate grew considerably through the years. Donations were accumulated in various ways: through farm land, woods, houses, tithes, duties, and even churches or chapels. There were many motivations: hope of retribution in the hereafter, or the ‘dowry’ of a future monk, but also as compensation for a wrong, to obtain a tomb inside the monastery, to buy back pledged land, masses and processions…

Making a success of the estate: a difficult task

By the 10th century, the established custom was to bequeath property to the clergy. However, it was common for aggrieved successors to break their word and harass the monastery. Molesting peasants, stealing or burning crops, and stealing taxes were the favourite ways used by the young aristocracy to intimidate the monks, who often had to buy back the contested land a second, or even a third time, in order to be left in peace to cultivate their estate.