Abbaye Saint Victor
A Monument of Marseille's Historya few steps away from the 'Vieux-Port'

The Abbey of Saint‑Victor

The Abbey of Saint-Victor is one of the ‘Must See’ of the city of Marseille. You will dive into the city’s religious history with a visit to the Basilica and the crypts, which benefit from a breathtaking view of the ‘Vieux-Port’ (Old Port). The abbey’s tower has long been a landmark for the people of Marseille. In addition to its stunning view, you will delve into this historical building, a jewel of Early Christian art at the heart of Marseille’s history. Culture and History lovers will be delighted to explore its crypts, chapels, and sarcophagi.

This fortified church located on the South Bank of the Vieux-Port has a lot to offer. So come and discover them!

Origins

The Abbey was founded in the 5th Century by John Cassian and was welcomed with open arms by Proculus, bishop of Marseille (380-430). As an anchorite (a religious recluse), Cassian is thought to have introduced monastery life in Marseille. The relics of Saint-Victor – eponymous martyr of Marseille from the 4th century – are believed to be buried in the abbey in a tomb, around which the place of worship is organised.

Did you know?

Every year on Candlemas Day, a major pilgrimage takes place in Saint-Victor. On the morning of February the 2nd, a religious procession sets off from the Vieux-Port towards the Abbey of Saint-Victor along ‘rue Sainte’ (the Saint street). The Black Virgin usually kept in the crypts is then dressed in a green mantel and presented to the crowd before being blessed by the archbishop, after which he blesses the city and celebrates mass. He then proceeds to the Four des Navettes (an antique bakery with its 18th-century oven) where he blesses the little boat-shaped biscuits representative of Marseille.

History of the Abbey

In ancient times, an open-air quarry stood on the site of the abbey, whose excavated blocks were used to build the Ancient Port.

The quarry was located outside the city walls and sheltered a necropolis very early on. Marseille was nestled on the North Bank of the Vieux-Port while the South Bank was uninhabited. In Antiquity, it was prohibited to sully the city by burying the deceased inside the city walls. Therefore, several necropoleis were created outside the city, among them was Saint-Victor.

The body of Victor, the Christian martyr, was laid in this quarry. Victor was a Roman soldier who refused to sacrifice to false idols. During the persecution, he was quartered, crushed by a millstone, and his body thrown in the Vieux-Port.

A pilgrimage was organised very early on around Victor’s tomb and many inhabitants of Marseille wished to be laid to rest near his body as he represented the intercessor to reach salvation faster.

Understandably, a basilica emerged in the 5th century. The invaluable relics of the basilica and quarry are today mistakenly called ‘the crypts of Saint-Victor’.

You can explore Saint-Victor’s multi-layered sarcophagi (up to 7 layers in some areas!), some of which have never been opened. They are a precious testimony of the Christian art of the 4th and 5th centuries.

In the 11th century, Abbot Isarn initiated the building of the higher side of the church and of the tower. With the Basilica standing out, it later became a landmark of the Marseille skyline. From the end of the 12th till the 13th century, the Abbey was entirely rebuilt, abiding by the Roman builders’ techniques and overlapping the small 5th-century basilica. Pope Urban V (former Abbot of Saint-Victor) later fortified the whole monastery which became part of the port defense system.

The Abbey was abandoned during the French Revolution and restored in the 19th century. Together with the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Museum of ‘Arles antique’, it is a jewel of Early Christian art, art that can be decrypted on the numerous sarcophagi.

Practical information

Address : Place Saint-Victor 13007 Marseille
Opening times : 9 am – 7 pm

 
Entrance fee to the crypts: 2€ 

Free admission for under 12

Direction : Bus 54, 55, 61,80,81 Saint-Victor stop 

Explore the area of Saint-Victor around the Abbey and the Vieux-Port  

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