Notre Dame de Colombier



As early as the eleventh century, there is mention of a large village situated around the castle of Montbrun. The castle was a lively place, entertaining both state and church dignitaries with jugglers, lute players, and troubadours. The Lord of Montbrun gifted the village with a large communal oven and water mill. The trade industry in the town also prospered because of its situation along the way to Narbonne. The municipality grew, making it larger than its neighbouring village, Lézignan-des-Corbières. 

However, in 1335, the Black Prince invaded Languedoc with 20,000 troops in a campaign during the Hundred Year’s War (1337-1543). He besieged the neighbouring principalities but was driven back by the Viscount of Narbonne at Montbrun. At that time, the villagers of Montbrun lived in the plain and at each threat of attack they took refuge in the castle. In fact, at that time, the castle of Montbrun was the only safe shelter in the locality during attacks. 

Eventually, under the double strain of war and plague, the old village ‘Le Lion’ disappeared, leaving behind traces of its existence still evident today around the surviving Chapel of Notre Dame de Colombier.

The Chapel itself was established by the Bishop of Narbonne when he acquired the relics of a local saint who had lived in the nearby monastery of Lagrasse in the mid-13th century, Saint-Etienne de Cazillac (also known as St-Esteve in the Catalan dialect or St-Stefan in the Occitan dialect). The Chapel shrine was built in the middle of a priory, which came to be known as the Priory of Saint-Etienne de Montbrun, in 1351. But It was customary for Crusaders going to the Holy Land to visit this chapel before setting off for the wars. 

This Chapel was dedicated to “Our Lady of the Dovecot”, in French, “Notre Dame de Colombier”. It became the seat of the archpriest and served as the old village’s parish church. Excavations around the Chapel reveal “cazals” (ruined buildings), showing that the surrounding area was once populated by several village homes. Investigation of the limestone soil around the site also suggests the presence of a medieval lake, which extended from the Priory and Chapel to the ancient castle. This lake would have been drained by the monks of the community.

In a' compoix ‘, (which is a land registry of the 18th century), mention is made of “Notre Dame de Colombiez parish church with a square, cemetery and the ‘cazals’ of the old presbytery.” Beginning in the 19th century, a cemetery was re-established around the Chapel, due to its quiet location in the vineyards 1.5 km from the present village. 

The monument was left to neglect for centuries, until it was recognized by the Classification Authority in 1907. In 1950, it received legal protection with a status as a historical monument and the local community of Montbrun has taken care of it since that time. In 1952, a restoration campaign accomplished its goal of restoring the clock tower and adding a roof. Though restored in the 19th century, the front façade was refurbished again in 1963.


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