Montsalvy is a typical small French market town which lacks the character of near-by Conques and gets few tourists. It dates from the 11thC when St Gaubert founded Church, monastery and hospice for travellers here. It became one of the most important abbeys in the area.
The refectory building and the Chapter House of the original priory survive. The rest of the buildings including the cloisters have disappeared, although the cloister green survives. The church has been restored and repaired. The roof is 15thC and the west facade is 18thC. It is a large solidly built stone structure with an apsoidal east end and square tower with a pointed roof and small cupola above the transept.
Entry is either off the main street up steps through the west door which has a small carving of the Virgin in a brick niche above the door, or off the old cloisters through a small doorway into the south transept. We used this entrance. Immediately inside the door is a small chapel on the east wall with a stone carved altar with host box and a gilt statue of the Virgin and Child.
The inside of the building is very elegant. The nave and side aisles are later and covered with cream plaster except for the ceiling ribs and a stone band running along the top of the walls. Pillars supporting the pointed nave arches and the ceiling ribs have carved capitals. On the walls are carved stone Stations of the Cross on a blue background.
The elaborately carved wooden pulpit has panels with Biblical figures and saints. There is a massive canopy above with carved wooden drapes hanging down and an angel with a trumpet above.
The transepts and chancel are the oldest part of the building and have bare stone walls and ceiling. Massive transept pillars support the weight of the tower. There are two metal reliquary boxes on those nearest the chancel.
In the transept is a large mass altar with red marble surrounded by grey and gold frames. Behind it in the chancel, wooden steps lead up to a dais with a semicircle of four pillars which support a band of grey and gold decoration. Above are four swirly arches with gold cherubim supporting the top which has a simple cross. Round the back wall of the chancel are carved wooden seats. There is a small round topped window giving light and a small crucifix on the east wall.
The chapel in the north transept has a low decorative iron grille across. Inside is a beautifully carved stone altar with saints on the base. The retable has a host box with shelves with gilt carvings and there is stone statue of St Bernard beside it.
There are five small apses off the north wall, each with an altar. From the east end, the first is Chapelle du St Sacrimont with marble altar and retable with inlaid gilt decoration and a painted statue of Christ on wall above.
This is followed by a chapel with a modern altar with a painting of the risen Christ on Easter morning with Mary, Mary Magdalene and two disciples. The ceiling is carved and painted red and grey between the vaulted ribs. There is a big wooden Bible stand and an old painted statue of Joseph with the young Jesus on the wall.
The centre chapel now houses a massive stone font and has a statue of St John on the wall.
Next is the Chapel of the Virgin which has a decorative metal grille across the entrance. Inside is a large carved wood altar and retable with a statue of St Ann with the young Mary above the host box. Two painted angels hold candles and garlands. There are statues of St Francis of Assisi, St Antoinie de Padoue, Notre-Dame de Lourdes.
The last chapel is no longer used and is closed off by red and green doors. It contains a confessional and assorted bits of disused furniture.
Don’t miss the Treasury Museum is in the old Chapter House, reached by a short passage from the south side of church. There is no charge and it contains a good selection of exhibits including church vestments, ostensoirs, an enamelled metal book rest with an illustrated Bible, a diadem set with semi-precious stones, small reliquaries and communion plate.
Montsalvy Abbey is a nice 11thC building but lacks the impact of Conques, both in architecture and situation. If you are wanting to see a typical French town without the tourists, it is worth a visit.