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Medieval Abbey of Lagrasse/

Cultural center les arts de lire

Medieval Abbey of Lagrasse

Idriss Bigou-Gilles

The medieval Abbey of Lagrasse is a cultural center dedicated to the arts of reading, open to all audiences, young and old, with an interest in heritage, literature and artistic creation. Developed from the Lagrasse Summer Book Banquet, a key event in the cultural life of the Corbières region, the artistic and cultural program of the Centre Culturel de Rencontre runs throughout the year. The medieval Abbey of Lagrasse, Cultural Center for the Arts of Reading, also runs a bookshop and a literary bistro. The site was awarded the "Centre culturel de rencontre" label in July 2023.


Lagrasse Abbey is located in the heart of the Corbières massif in the Aude department, and is one of Occitanie's heritage treasures. Erected on the left bank of the Orbieu river, it is in direct dialogue with the medieval town of Lagrasse on the opposite bank, listed as one of France's most beautiful villages.

Founded by Charlemagne in 779, it has been built up over the centuries, and today boasts a rich architectural palette ranging from the 8th to the 18th century. During the French Revolution, it became a military hospital, before being partitioned and sold in two lots as national property in 1796. It then became a holiday home on one side and the home of a family of winegrowers and merchants on the other. It later housed an orphanage and an old people's home.

The part corresponding to the medieval buildings has belonged to the Département de l'Aude since 2004. The EPCC Les arts de lire - Abbaye de Lagrasse has been managing this part of the abbey since October 2022, deploying its Cultural Encounter Center program based on the theme of the arts of reading. The buildings offer a remarkable array of medieval structures (courtyard and abbot's dwelling, cellar, bakery, chapel, sacristy, north transept, pre-Romanesque tower, ceremonial hall and monks' dormitory) and artistic ornamentation (barrel vaults, diaphragm arches, sculptures, painted ceilings, ceramics).

The entire building is listed as a Historic Monument.


"The arts of reading" is the programmatic title of the Cultural Encounter Centre. This notion invites us to celebrate exercises as diverse as medieval copying, the study of philosophical texts, poetic creation, public readings and debates between writers. Lagrasse Abbey is a place where, for centuries, sacred and secular, religious, poetic, philosophical and political texts have been read - that is to say, studied, copied, interpreted, learnt by heart, recited in public or recited for oneself, translated and retranslated, confronted with each other or measured against the challenges of the present. These multiple practices constitute the range of possible variations of the notion of the arts of reading.

If, a few decades ago, literature could be described as the play of writing entirely cut off from the spoken word, the contemporary horizon is, on the contrary, marked by a multiplication of practices that surround the book, reintegrate it into the space of exchanges and require authors to carry their texts. A new closeness is emerging between reading, saying and sharing, linked to a series of factors: transformations in cultural practices, strategies for promoting and disseminating the written word, the extension of performative practices into the field of contemporary art, and the digital transition.

In this way, the arts of reading go beyond the field of books to extend experimentation to innovative practices and open up to the work of artists who, in order to make the world readable, trace out non-textual forms of reading.


The EPCC aims to be a driving force in cultural life throughout the year. It simultaneously offers a programme of discovery and enhancement of the abbey (tourist visits to the monument, mediation activities) and an artistic, scientific and cultural programme in multi-disciplinary formats: guided tours of the monument, meetings with authors, conferences, workshops, seminars, themed weekends, geological or botanical walks, concerts, radio creations, exhibitions, film screenings, etc.

The annual highlight is the Summer Book Banquet.  This week of intellectual, literary and artistic encounters is held every year in early August. It's an opportunity for leading voices in literature and the social sciences, as well as key players in contemporary change, to share their thoughts and commitments. The Banquet du livre includes readings, lectures, screenings, podcasts, nature walks and concerts.

As an echo to this summer event, a spring Banquet and an autumn Banquet are also held in a more compact format.

On an ad hoc basis, seminars are organised in the humanities and social sciences (philosophy, history, anthropology, etc.), led by researchers keen to contribute to the dissemination of thought and collective reflection.

The CCR Les arts de lire also runs an annual writers' residency programme, enabling writers, researchers and artists to benefit from the Lagrasse setting, which is ideal for writing.

A bookshop, located at the very entrance to the monument, and a literary bistro are open to the public all year round and are the most active meeting places in local life.

Artistic and cultural education is an integral part of JRC Les arts de lire's remit. It is developing a programme of activities tailored to young audiences, both on the abbey site and directly in schools (guided tours of the monument, shows, discussions with guest artists and authors, reading awareness workshops, etc.). The JRC also aims to open up its programming to people who are vulnerable or far removed from the cultural field.

Finally, the JRC is developing a practical approach to art through workshops, particularly writing workshops.