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Abbey of Luxeuil

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Situated in the Department of Haute-Saône in Franche-Comté, in the Diocese of Besançon. It was founded in 585 by the great Irish monk, St. Columbanus, on the ruins of the Gallo-Roman castle of Luxovium, about eight miles from Aunigray. It was dedicated to St. Peter and soon became the most important and flourishing monastery in Gaul. The community was so large, that choir followed choir in the chanting of the Office, and here for the first time was heard the laus perennis, or unceasing psalmody, which went on day and night. Whether St. Columbanus gave this monastery and others dependent on it an oral or a written rule is uncertain. We know it to have been borrowed mostly from that observed in the great Irish monasteries. But for many reasons this rule was not destined to prevail for long. St. Columbanus had all the force and impetuosity of the ardent Irish temperament, great powers of physical endurance, intellectual and moral strength. He seems to have lacked the discretion of St. Benedict. His rule, moreover, did not legislate concerning the abbot's election, his relations with his monks, and the appointment of monastic officials with delegated power. For long the two rules were observed together, St. Benedict's supplying what was lacking in the other, but by the end of the eighth century the rule of St. Columbanus had given way to what had then become the great monastic code of the West. Driven into exile by King Thierry and his grandmother Queen Brunehaut, St. Columbanus was succeeded as abbot by St. Eustace whom he had placed over the schools of Luxeuil. During the abbacy of St. Eustace and that of his successor St. Waldebert, these schools grew to great fame. There came to them many of the young nobles of Gaul, and youths from such cities as Autun, Strasburg, and Lyons. They sent forth many who became great bishops in Gaul and other parts of Europe, and to Luxeuil is largely due the conversion and renewal of the Burgundian empire. It would be difficult to give an adequate account of the monastic colonization for which Luxeuil was responsible. Among its affiliations were such great houses as Bobbio, between Milan and Genoa, of which St. Columbanus himself became abbot, and the monasteries of Saint-Valéry and Remiremont. To Luxeuil came such monks as Conon, Abbot of Lérins, before setting about the reform of his somewhat degenerated monks, and St. Wandrille and St. Philibert who founded respectively the Abbeys of Fontenelle and Jumièges in Normandy, and spent years in studying the rule observed in monasteries which derived their origin from Luxeuil.

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In 731 the Vandals in their destructive career of conquest through western Gaul, took possession of Luxeuil and massacred most of the community. The few survivors rebuilt the abbey, and later, under the government of the eighteenth abbot, St. Ansegisus , it appeared as if it were about to recover its former greatness and prosperity. He received the abbey from Louis le Débonnaire, restored the church and monastic buildings, and reformed discipline. Many were the privileges and exemptions accorded by popes and sovereigns of France, but as time went on, it had also to contend with much tribulation and misfortune. Such were the incursions of the Normans and other savage hordes, which were accompanied by the usual pillage and destruction. But it was not till the fifteenth century that the worst evil of all came, namely the institution of commendatory Abbots of Luxeuil and the sure and swift decline of monastic discipline consequent thereon. But this state of things came to an end in 1634. The commendatory abbots ceased, and Luxeuil was joined to the reformed congregation of Saint-Vanne. From the report of the "Commission des Réguliers", drawn up in 1768, the community appears to have been numerous and flourishing, and discipline well kept. At the French Revolution the monks were dispersed; but the abbey church, built in the purest French Gothic of the fourteenth century, was not destroyed; neither were the cloisters and conventual buildings. Until the passing of the recent laws against the Church in France these buildings were being used as a grand séminaire for the Diocese of Besançon. They are now either empty or turned to some secular use. The church itself has for long been used as the parish church of Luxeuil.

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