The history of the abbey

At the crossroads of the provinces of the South-West, Quercy, Languedoc, and Gascony, Belleperche sits on its powerful brick foundations on the left bank of the Garonne river and is rooted in the history of the "Midi toulousain" (Greater Toulouse area) not far from its sister Grandselve, and the Benedictine abbey in Moissac.

It is not directly of Cistercian origin. Around 1130-1140, an old family of knights, the Argombats, founded a small monastery in the valley of the Gimone river, nine kilometres south of the present location. As of 1143, in association with other families, they affiliated this modest structure to the Cistercian order so as to create a large establishment, which they hoped to profit from. Thus, Belleperche became the 42nd daughter of Clairvaux, the abbey of Saint Bernard, specifically chosen by the founders in order to benefit from an illustrious sponsor. The community was immediately transferred to the modern-day site at the end of the valley on the banks on the Garonne.

The history of the abbeye

Having amassed the vast majority of its real estate heritage before 1200, created barns and ports and developed trade for its excess production, in the 13th century Belleperche would become one of the richest abbeys in the south of France, along with Grandselve (Tarn-et-Garonne), Boulbonne (Haute-Garonne) and Fontfroide (Aude). It owned a total of between 8000 and 9000 hectares of land and specialised its agriculture by focusing on wine, as well as cattle, horse and mule breeding. Between 1253 and 1287, the monks participated in the development of the countryside, setting up nine "bastides" (new medieval towns) of which 5 still exist today: Larrazet, Cordes-Tolosannes, Donzac, Garganvillar, Angeville and Montain.

During the crusade against the Cathars, Belleperche remained outside the conflict, although it provided discrete support for the count of Toulouse. From the 1230s a huge extension programme was begun, which resulted in the monastery being rebuilt, based on rather considerable dimensions. From 1263 to 1294, Guilhem Jauffre, who came from Couze-Saint-Front in the Périgord region, was the most important abbot in the history of Belleperche. As diplomatic officer to the King of France from 1272, notably for sensitive cases, he was appointed to announce the seizure of the Duchy of Aquitaine to the English in February 1294, and was rewarded by being appointed bishop of Bazas (1294-1299).

Weakened by the Hundred Years' War, the abbey began to prosper again at the end of the 15th century, but the Wars of Religion (1562-98) once again brought it to the brink of ruin On 7 October 1572, armed men took over the premises; they killed some of the monks, pillaged and occupied the monastery before finally leaving at the end of December, as the royal army approached, although not before setting the roof frame alight. Belleperche regained its position in the 17th century and housed up to thirty monks, the maximum number allowed as of 1598. The abbey opened up to secular life and was largely developed as a hostel for travellers. This massive, robust farm in the middle of an estate that still covered thousands of hectares of land remained "profitable" for its abbots. The monks lived in comfort, although without luxury, thanks to their profits from the land, and worked to support the neighbouring populations.

The history of the abbey

The history of the abbey

When the estates belonging to the French church were confiscated as National Property after the Revolution, the monks moved from the premises in 1791. The abbey was purchased during an auction in May of that year by a merchant from Auvillar and Belleperche thus became a private property. Due to divisions, sales and inheritances, there were up to eight joint owners at the end of the 19th century. In 1983, when there was a project to turn the central portion into a night club, the Tarn-et-Garonne General Council put in a purchase bid for the building, including the section housing the cloister. Belleperche was given a new lease of life thanks to essential restoration work that was undertaken and then the development of a table arts museum, the creation of which was voted by the General Council in 2002 under the initiative of its President Jean-Michel Baylet. .