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Villelongue-dels-Monts (Municipality, Pyrénées-Orientales, France)


Last modified: 2017-09-09 by ivan sache
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Flag of Villelongue-dels-Monts - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 7 December 2004

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Presentation of Villelongue-dels-Monts

The municipality of Villelongue-dels-Monts (in Catalan, Villalonga-dels-Monts; 1,608 inhabitants in 2014, 1,155 ha) is located close to the border with Spain. Villelongue means "the long estate". The Catalan attribute "dels-Monts" refers to Mount Saint-Christophe, part of the Pyrenean chain of Albères, which dominates the village.

As early as 1095, a fortress called Castrum Sancti Christophori was built on Mount Saint-Christophe.

The parish church, dedicated to St. Étienne, was built in the 12th century in the Catalan Roman style, whose best pieces are the abbeys of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa and Saint-Martin-du-Canigou. The main characteristics of the Schurch are a semicircular apse decorated with anthropomorphic figures, a quadrangular bell-tower and a dog's head-shaped door fittings and latches.

The Santa Maria del Vilar priory is located outside the village in a natural cirque. Inhabited in the Neolithic age, the site was later abandoned and resettled by the Romans, who built there a watch tower in the 1st century. The tower was 6 meters in diameter and its height is unknown, only the first two meters having been preserved and placed inside the parish church. The tower watched the Via Domitia and was surrounded by a few more buildings. This estate is probably the origin of the attribute Vilar (villa).
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was conquered by the Wisigoths and incorporated into Septimania. The Wisigoths built near the Roman tower a 10 x 5 m building, probably intended to house a small garrison. They also built a pre-Roman church and left thirteen sarcophagi, two of them being currently placed near the parish church.

The place was completely destroyed by the Sarracens and resettled after the Carolingian reconquest of the region in 811. Several abbeys and churches were built in the Catalan Roman style, included the priory of Santa Maria del Vilar, built by Augustinian monks in 1083. The monks reused the remains of the previous ages to build a church, a cloister surmounted by the Prior's apartment, and rooms for the monks in the Wisigothic building.
The cloister, designed on the same model as the priory of Serrabone, has only one side. It has three archs and its ceiling is made of heavy wood in order to support the Prior's apartment. The church is decorated with frescos, which were wisely hidden under roughcast by the monks when they left the priory in 1538; the frescos were rediscovered during a later restoration but suffered from an unfortunate washing procedure. The door of the church is asymetrical and its capitals are decorated with human heads. The door includes several holes, which were used as loopholes when the priory was threatened by rascals. (the Augustinian monks were willingly poor but were often confused with the rich Benedictines). The priory was also protected by a square tower that collapsed during earthquakes in the 15th century.

The church was consecrated on 16 July 1142, 60 years after the beginning of the building site. In the next centuries, several guilds settled near the priory, as it was the case in Marcevol and Serrabone. Remains of a forge and stone-cutter and glass-maker's workshops have been found.
The monks left the priory in 1538 but gave the key to a family in the village of Laroque des Albères, in case monks would like to resettle the priory. The key was kept in the same family for 450 years, until 1994, when the remains of the priory were excavated and the key reused. The village around the priory disappeared and its inhabitants moved down to the plains. The name of Vilar was forgotten near 1750. From 1802 to 1942, the priory church was used as a sheepfold. The ruins of the village were covered by earth slipping down the mountain.

In 1994, Ms. Lucette Triadou purchased the sheepfold and attempted to restore what was locally called the oven. She found that the oven was indeed a door buried beneath the soil. A local association, helped by the national agency for historical monuments, was able to restore the site and buildings from the different ages, which are now opened to the public.
[Municipal website; Pyrénées Catalanes; Le Roussillon, passé et présent by Jean Tosti]

Ivan Sache, 7 December 2004

Flag of Villelongue-dels-Monts

The flag of Villelongue-dels-Monts is white with the municipal coat of arms, made of six yellow and black horizontal stripes, in the center.

Arnaud Leroy, 7 December 2004