Behind Saint-Omer station, on the city side, stand the ruins of Saint-Bertin. Some old stones highlighted by a park taking up the layout of the old abbey which testifies to the past grandeur of the Saint-Bertin abbey. These remains were classified as a historic monument on the first list of 1840.

A look back at the history of this monument which made Saint-Omer one of the greatest religious capitals in the Middle Ages.

History of St-Bertin Abbey

This Benedictine abbey, formerly called Sithiu Abbey in the era when St-Omer was still called Sithiu (the seat), was founded in 648 by the Bishop of Thérouanne. This bishop, called Audomar, will be the future Saint-Omer. He was accompanied in his quest by three monks: Bertin, Mommelin and Ebertram.

At that time, it was only a small monastery dedicated to Saint Peter located at the gates of the city, at the foot of Mount Sithiu. With the work carried out on the canals during the 10th century, the Abbey of Sithiu will be bordered by the Aa and the Upper Meldyck.

Description of the former abbey

Surrounded by a surrounding wall, the abbey of St Bertin took up the classic layout of Benedictine abbeys. The order of St Benoit was indeed marked by the rule of enclosure. Within it, the abbey of St Bertin was divided into three spaces surrounding the abbey: the regular places, the peripheral districts occupied by the prior, the chamberlain, the receiver and the abbot and the annexes for the monks. Around, the abbey shone on a number of lands serving its prosperity: farms, mills, breweries... These possessions extended far over the territory due to the donations received by the abbey of St Bertin: these extended to at La Canche and the bay of Authie, but also in certain territories of England and present-day Germany! It also enjoyed wide privileges and the protection of kings and emperors throughout its history.

The set of buildings dedicated to the community included a cloister with four covered galleries, a large refectory, a parlor, a rich library, a scriptorium, a place for the chapter, a cellar, kitchens...

Of course, the Abbey of Saint-Bertin was not built in a day! History tells us that a Romanesque church was built around the middle of the 1345th century in place of the future large abbey, itself on the site of an earlier Carolingian church. This Romanesque church was rebuilt in 25 and then expanded to become a large abbey church 48 meters high, surmounted by a tower 5 meters high. It included a vast sanctuary and XNUMX chapels. The set was not completed until the beginning of the XNUMXth century.

A rich history

The abbey of Saint-Bertin will be, during its millennium of existence, the place of lodging of many kings and princes passing through Saint-Omer. It will shine on the North of Europe during almost all its existence.

Note that it was repeatedly attacked during the Norman incursions. The Vikings were indeed after the religious treasures of Audomarois and its relics!

Finally, curious fact, the abbey of Saint-Bertin in St Omer constitutes the last place of life of the last Merovingian king, Childéric III. He was locked up there in 751 and died there 4 years later. The counts of Flanders Baudouin I of Flanders, Baudouin III of Flanders, Arnoul III of Flanders, certain members of their family and the abbots of St-Bertin were also buried there.

The French Revolution and the fall of the Abbey of Saint-Bertin in Saint-Omer

Like many abbeys in France, the abbey of Saint-Bertin was largely impacted by the French Revolution, anxious to erase the symbols of the old regime. Thus the abbey of Saint-Bertin became national property in 1789. On August 15, 1791, the monks were expelled there and, in 1792, the buildings were sold. It will house warehouses for a while. In 1792, the bells of the abbey were broken. 7 years later, the abbey will be sold to private individuals, who end up abandoning it after having partly destroyed it. Of course, the abbey was meanwhile completely looted!

In 1811, the city of Saint-Omer acquired the buildings then in ruins. 19 years later, the demolition order is given. This decision caused an uproar in the Audomarois. The revolutionary rage was already far away… Among the fervent defenders of the abbey, we could then count Victor Hugo in person, who fired red balls at this management of national property on the occasion of an article published in the Revue des Deux Worlds in 1832.

Unfortunately, the work was still initiated. The stones from the abbey will be used, among other things, to build the concert hall, the town hall of Saint-Omer and its theatre, as well as the Haut-Pont quays.

In 1840, the abbey (and the cathedral of Saint-Omer) will appear in the first list of historical monuments. The tower and the ruins will be preserved.

World War II and the Fall of the Tower

The abbey tower remained in the Audomarois landscape for almost a century. Unfortunately, it will suffer from Allied bombings in 1943 during the Second World War. Located near the station, this tower is a collateral victim. A projectile had hit a buttress, another a gasometer of the gas plant located a few tens of meters from the site. The tower held firm, but no one bothered to reinforce it at a time when everything had to be rebuilt.

On July 22, 1947, around 21 p.m., the tower of Saint-Bertin collapsed.

The ruins of Saint-Bertin and its treasures today

Today, only the ruins and the park testify to this past and to one of the first religious monuments of Saint-Omer. Everyone can discover its grandeur by going to rue des moulins, place St-Bertin and around rue des moulins. Opposite the old entrance to the abbey stands the statue of Father Suger, acquired by the town of Saint-Omer in 1931.

As for the treasures of the Abbey of Saint-Bertin, many of them have been scattered all over France in various private or public collections. We can however find certain movable elements of sacred art within the cathedral of Saint-Omer. The Sandelin Museum, rue Carnot in Saint-Omer, also has among its collections a few capitals and fragments of mosaics from the Romanesque abbey. Part of the abbey library has finally joined the old stock of the Saint-Omer agglomeration library.

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