Lérins, Abbey of
LÉRINS, ABBEY OF
Cistercian monastery on the island of St. Honoratus, one of a group of islands off the southeast coast of France, opposite Cannes. In about 410 honoratus of
arles and a companion settled on the abandoned and desolate site as hermits. They were joined by other men with similar ideals, and soon a monastic community came into being, probably somewhat similar to a Palestinian laura. Its importance as a spiritual center is attested to by the names of the saints and bishops who were monks or visitors there in the first century of its existence. Among the monks were Maximus and Faustus of Riez, Caesarius and Virgilius of Arles, Eucherius of Lyons, and Lupus of Troyes; among the visitors were Vincent of Lérins, Salvianus of Marseilles, Patrick of Ireland, and Augustine of Canterbury. The early rule, possibly unwritten, in any case has not survived. There are some indications that it strongly influenced St. Benedict when he wrote his Rule, which in its turn was officially adopted by Abbot Aigulf (c. 660). A massacre of the monks (c. 732), when the island was occupied by the Saracens, brought an end to the first period of monastic life at Lérins. A restoration took place when the invaders were driven out (975), and the 11th century was a time of great material and spiritual prosperity. Numerous foundations along the whole Mediterranean coast and to the north spread the heritage of Lérins. This period of prosperity came to an end in 1464 when the pope replaced the regular abbot with a commendatory one. This was a death blow to the moral greatness of the abbey and also prepared its material ruin. One of these commendatory abbots, A. Grimaldi, bishop of Vence, united Lérins to the Italian Cassinese Congregation (1515), but the reformation that might have taken place because of this was impeded by the continual difficulties raised by the French kings and bishops over the foreign affiliation. The abbey was suppressed by royal decree in 1786 and its buildings sold at auction in 1791. In 1859 Monsignor Jordany, bishop of Fréjus, purchased the island and gave it to the Cistercian Congregation of Senanque, which established a community (1871) and eventually its headquarters there. Several remains of the earlier monasteries still exist: the so-called seven chapels, probably going back to very early days; an old cloister from the 8th century; and a defensive tower from the Middle Ages.
Bibliography: h. moris, L'Abbaye de Lérins. Histoire et monuments (Paris 1909). h. moris and e. blanc, Cartulaire de l'abbaye de Lérins, 2 v. (Paris 1884–1905). a. c. coopermarsden, The History of the Islands of the Lérins … (Cambridge, Eng. 1913). c. l. cristiani, Lérins et ses fondateurs (Paris 1946). h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie 8.2:2596–2627. l. h. cottineau, Répertoire topobibliographique des abbayes et prieurés 1:1588–90. d. misonne, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche 2 6:975–976.