The modern approach to the town of Villeneuve passes the Tower of Philip
the Fair, a huge square block of masonry, erected early in the
fourteenth century on the west bank of the river, at the spot where the
old Bridge of St. Benezet reached the shore. The position was such that
whoever held this tower had complete command of the bridge, and could
render it useless to the inhabitants of Avignon when any conflict arose.
Its presence here proves how determined Philip was to have the Papacy
under his complete control, and at the time of its construction it was
well-nigh impregnable, for it embodied the latest improvements known to
the military genius of that day.
Before this period the battlements of fortresses and castles were simply
a series of embrasures and merlons with narrow oylets perforating the
latter. The engines of war used in laying siege to these buildings were
great battering-rams, with iron points, which laboured incessantly at
the lower portions of the defences, until a breach sufficiently large to
give passage to the attacking party was effected. The defenders’ reply
to this mode of attack was to lower cords or chains from the
battlements, and with them entangle the battering-ram so as to put it
out of action.
The besieging party’s efforts were, therefore, engaged in preventing the
defenders from leaning over the parapets; the archers and bowmen
directing their arrows and quarrels at any and every head appearing at
the embrasures above. Throughout the crusades this was the manner of
defence and attack, and an improvement was introduced by a system of
covering the battlements with temporary galleries, projecting over and
supported upon wooden beams, thrust through holes left for the purpose
in the masonry. This gallery was roofed with wood and tiles, whilst the
floor had gaps between the planks through which the defenders could let
down their ropes and chains or pour molten lead, burning sulphur, stones
and other missiles upon the heads of those who advanced to enter
breaches in the walls.
But in time a method was discovered of successfully
[Illustration: TOWER OF PHILIP THE FAIR.]
attacking this device of the defending party. Great catapults, the most
ancient of military engines, invented away back in the early classic
times, were now employed to hurl barrels of burning tar up on to the
temporary wooden shelters, which were soon demolished by this means.
[Illustration: A HILL TOP VILLENEUVE.]
For centuries this method of attack and defence flourished, and it was
not until the beginning of the fourteenth century that the machicolated
battlements came into existence. From ancient times the old crenellated
battlements had served through ages that were engaged in fighting. The
ancient Egyptians and Assyrians used them, and it was reserved for the
military genius of the Middle Ages to invent the machicolated parapet.
This consisted of building out from the main walls of the tower or
castle a curtain of masonry, supported by stone brackets. This gave a
thorough protection to the besieged, who could look down through the
apertures between the corbels and drop their missiles, molten lead,
burning sulphur and melted pitch, on to the heads of their assailants.
The Tower of Philip the Fair is built with a machicolated battlement,
and over the small doorway there is an “échauguette,” or small
projecting tower, which commands the entrance. Even if the besiegers
managed to escape the missiles dropped through the floor of the little
tower, and forced their way into the porch, their task was not
accomplished, for from the roof of the narrow passage leading into the
large ground-floor chamber a long chimney runs right up to the top of
the tower and down this projectiles could still be dropped.
The tower contains three lofty chambers, one above the other, each of
which has a finely vaulted roof, the ribs resting upon fantastically
carved corbels. These chambers are in an absolutely perfect state of
preservation, a rare thing in a fourteenth-century building in this part
of the country. The narrow winding staircase lit by oylets, which betray
the thickness of the walls, has at intervals little branch stairways of
only a few steps. These give
[Illustration: GATEWAY, TARASCON.
access to small openings into the shaft that runs from the roof of the
porch to the roof of the building.
If for any reason the roof had to be abandoned, the besieged could still
command the entrance through these apertures. The top chamber in the
tower seems to have been used as a prison at some early time, for it is
covered with pathetic inscriptions, cut with such care that they could
only have been executed by persons upon whose hands the time hung
heavily. One cannot know for certain that they are not the work of a
besieged garrison, or the guardians of the tower, but the presence of
strong iron bars across the outside of the windows, and other evidences,
would indicate that prisoners occupied this tower at some time in its
history; and one would think that all these precautions to prevent the
escape of a prisoner from this lofty room were hardly necessary: unless
indeed the prisoner had a rope or was able to construct a makeshift one
out of his clothing, he would be very unlikely to run far after he had
dropped from this lofty tower on to the rough rocks below.
The stone seat in one of the deep window embrasures in the second
chamber has carved upon it, very neatly, the chequered pattern of a
chess-board, the alternate squares being either raised or sunk. A
similar “chessstone” appears upon the floor of one of the chambers in
the Fort St. André. One can only imagine them to be the work of
prisoners, for, however much time the soldiers of the Guard had at their
disposal, it is incredible they would have allotted themselves so hard
and tedious a task when they could easily obtain a bit of wood to serve
their purpose. And yet, who knows? A prolonged siege might have reduced
the garrison to its last stick, and the horror of their perilous
position may have driven them to seek any diversion to drive away the
contemplation of the fate awaiting them.
[Illustration: WINDOW SEAT. IN THE TOWER OF PHILIP.]
The Fort of St. André commands not only the town which nestles around
its foundations, but the river and the whole of the western side of
When Philip forced the miserable Pope Clement V. to settle in France, he
anticipated the necessity of keeping a strict watch on the Papal
residences, and although the great Palace which now stands in Avignon
was not erected till some years after, Philip had the Fort St. André
built to keep a guard. It was probably the proximity of this formidable
fortress that caused the succeeding Popes to take such care with the
fortification of their residence. It was from this fortress that the
French troops besieged the Papal Palace when Pierre de Luna set up his
pretensions and defended it against all comers.
[Illustration: FORT SAINT ANDRE.]
Two great towers form the entrance to the grounds upon which stood the
Abbey of St. André. During the troublous times of the sixteenth century
these two towers were used as prisons, and the great Hall on the first
floor, the Hall of the Chevaliers, served for a recreation-room. The
flagstones of this great bare apartment are covered with inscriptions
and devices which, although much worn, show that the prisoners who
carved them were educated men of the period. The skill displayed in many
of these elaborate devices is all the more remarkable when it is
remembered that the only instruments used were the soft pewter spoons
the prisoners had for supping soup with. Indications of the prisoners’
thoughts are embodied in the stones. A St. George and the Dragon, a
Crucifixion, cannon, Maltese crosses, a figure of Justice, a device
emblematic of abundance, skulls and crossbones, form some of the
subjects upon which the prisoners tried their spoons and skill; whilst
one by a member of the “Carbonari” recalls memories of Silvio Pellico
and his moving records of a prisoner’s life.
The venerable heavy doors that lead into these gloomy chambers groan
with age each time they turn upon their well-worn hinges; rusty iron
bolts creak out the same melancholy discords that many years ago fell
upon strained ears and sinking hearts.
The twin towers of the Fortress of St. André remain a most imposing
memorial of fourteenth-century military architecture. Standing on a
rock, that at one time was an island of the Rhone, the fort commanded
the surrounding country to an extent that made its presence a
[Illustration: A STREET IN VILLENEUVE.]
menace to the neighbourhood. The walls enclose a site upon which a town
nestled in calm security, and near by the Monastery or Abbey of St.
André, sheltered further by a great belt of pines, rises upon the site
of a still more ancient building now passed out of memory.
Its career has been a chequered one, for it has changed owners with a
bewildering frequency. After the Revolution it was turned into a
military hospital; later it came into the possession of private persons;
and in the second decade of the last century it again became a convent,
inhabited by nuns. Now, unoccupied, it awaits some fresh development,
but who dare prophesy what destiny has in store for it?
The little town beside it is fast tumbling to decay; its dilapidated
walls and roofs straggling in irregular confusion up the rocky hillside.
Higher up, on one of the topmost knolls of the enclosure, a small
ancient chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Belvezet, stands erect and
stern in its simplicity, forsaken and exposed to the mistral’s greatest
violence and the sun’s fiercest bleaching rays.
The town of Villeneuve, that lies below the fortress, sadly belies its
name, for a more concentrated collection of crumbling ruins could hardly
be imagined. The Monastery of the Chartreuse, founded by Innocent VI.
in the middle of the fourteenth century (1352), was for more than four
hundred years one of the most important and prosperous in Languedoc. The
walls enclosing it measure nearly a mile in circumference, and now its
ruins form a squalid little town inhabited by over five hundred human
beings, to say nothing of the domestic animals.
The walls of its crumbling church are fast disappearing, the roof lets
more than daylight in, and what little of it remains affords but a poor
shelter for a few rickety, cumbrous, mud-stained carts and piles of
faggots stored for winter use.
The Gothic tomb of Innocent VI., the founder and patron of this monastic
town (for the Monastery of the Chartreuse was more than a mere cluster
of religious buildings), was only removed from this church as lately as
1835, and placed amidst more secure and fitting surroundings, in the
Hospice of the town.
This beautiful tomb of Innocent, not unlike that of his predecessor
John, in the Cathedral of Avignon, suffered more shameful treatment at
the hands of the demoralised mobs of the first Republic. For years it
lay neglected, amidst accumulating mounds of degrading filth that
threatened to engulf it; till during the reign of Louis Philippe, when
the fires of the Revolution had died down, attention was directed to the
ancient monuments of the country, and amongst other things it was
discovered that this once beautiful and dignified tomb was being used by
some ingenious and impious person as a rabbit hutch. Time’s revenges are
indeed bitter, but its healing power is none the less merciful, and
to-day the tomb receives the homage of pilgrims actuated by more varied
motives than those of former ages.
[Illustration: GATEWAY OF MONASTERY CHARTREUSE.]
Some idea of the enormous power of Monachism, and the attraction it had
for all classes in the Middle Ages, can be derived from the
contemplation of even the ruins of these institutions in the Southern
countries where they flourished.
At the close of the thirteenth and all through the following century the
Monastery and Convent reached the highest developments. The primitive
hermits, who lived in bare seclusion, depriving themselves wilfully of
all but the essentials of existence, were not only fifteen centuries
removed from the powerful and luxurious monks of the Middle Ages, in
point of time; they are for ever unrelated to them in their methods of
existence. The gradual stages in the evolution of the monastic idea melt
into each other almost imperceptibly. From St. Anthony to the Monastery
of Villeneuve is a far cry, and the anchorite of Thebes would have found
it difficult to recognise in the monachism of later years the spirit
that controlled his life.
Instead of the rough cave of nature’s carving, a succession of chapels
richly decorated by the hands of accomplished artists, whose talents
were controlled by monastic wealth, cloisters with carvings that only
[Illustration:.THE FOUNTAIN IN..THE CLOISTERS OF..THE CHARTREUSE.
and well-paid sculptors could achieve, galleries, chapter-houses,
refectories, gardens, kitchens, stables, wine-cellars, all contributed
to the enjoyment of the occupants. The worldly prosperity of the
institution continued right down until the Revolution relieved it of its
wealth and robbed it of its power. There was no lingering period of
decay, but a sudden lightning stroke put an end to the Monastery of the
Its architecture represents all the styles of four hundred years. Here
we see an early Roman-Gothic chapel, on whose walls linger remnants of
Italian frescoes, painted when art was breaking away from the archaic
tradition of the earlier Christian schools. Classic Renaissance
sculpture adorns the fine entrance gateway, a masterpiece of the
eighteenth century, the work of de Valfenier. Upon the shield facing the
spectator is the inscription: “Domus Sanctæ Mariæ. Vallis
All through the strange winding lanes, that once were cloisters and
vaulted passages, incongruous squalid makeshift hovels mingle and jostle
with the ancient buildings. In the centre of one of the cloisters there
stands unfinished, but isolated, a classic rotunda that once sheltered a
fountain, one of the latest additions to the monastery when the end
came. At the beginning of the eighteenth century buildings foreign to
the character of the place grew up in the cloisters that surround this
dignified rotunda, but the intervening space has fortunately been spared
to give, as it were, a breathing space to one of the best preserved
monuments in the ruined abbey.