Saint-Paul de Mausole Monastery

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HISTORY

Near the Roman ruins of Glanum, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (Southern France), there was a monastery in which monks devoted themselves to help people struggling with mental issues. When the convent was nationalized in 1789, it was sold to Dr. Mercurin, who founded a psychiatric asylum. When he died the asylum was inherited by his heirs. In 1906, one of them, Mr. Aubert of the Castille donated it to the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Vessaux in Ardeche, as long as the building maintained the original purpose. From 1919 to 1964, Dr. Edgar Leroy, who was the medical director, helped to make the clinic an institution particularly appreciated by his colleagues and patients all over the world. Until 2014, the Sisters of Saint Joseph Community participated in the care teams for the sick and the elderly. In the buildings, that are now owned by the Association "The Friends of St. Paul", several activities are operated for vocation and psychiatric orientation. The Monastery is now managed by the "1901 Vivre Et Devenir-Villepinte-Saint Michel" association.1

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() Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum ()

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Tubroom at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum ()

THE CLOISTER

The Saint-Paul de Mausole Monastery has an astonishing Romanesque bell tower with two floors of square plan topped with a pyramidal roof. On the inside, there is a magnificent Romanesque cloister attributable to the 11th and 12th century. At the center of the pathway, a flower garden contributes to its beauty. The patients can enjoy an incredible atmosphere of tranquility, serenity conducive to reflection and meditation2.

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Cloister Corridor with arcades of twinned columns ()
() Cloister garden ()

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VAN GOGH

The painter Vincent van Gogh checked himself into Saint-Paul de Mausole Monastery from 8 May 1889 to May 16, 1890. Thanks to the humanity and innovative methods of Dr. Théophile Peyron's treatment, the artist was able to continue his work during his stay in Saint-Paul de Mausole Monastery. Indeed, many of his masterpieces were made there. Van Gogh occupied for 53 weeks a room in the "men's pavilion", whose reconstruction can be found at the top of the Romanesque stairway. Van Gogh was able to benefit from a second room which served him as a workshop, and a third one to store his paintings. He will be hospitalised there until his departure on May 16, 1890.3

  • A translation of a small excerpt from the letter written by Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Thursday, 9th May 1889.

"I’m losing the vague dread, the fear of the thing. And little by little I can come to consider madness as being an illness like any other. Then the change of surroundings is doing me good, I imagine. As far as I know the doctor here is inclined to consider what I’ve had as an attack of an epileptic nature. But I haven’t made any enquiries."4

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Statue of Vincent van Gogh made by Gabriël Sterk outside the Saint-Paul de Mausole Monastery. ()

  • Translation of the medical report made by Doctor Théophile Peyron when Vincent van Gogh left the asylum

"During his stay in the home, this patient, who was calm for most of the time, had several attacks lasting for between two weeks and a month; during these attacks, the patient is subject to terrifying fears, and on several occasions he has attempted to poison himself, either by swallowing colours that he used for painting, or by ingesting paraffin, which he had taken from the boy while he was filling his lamps. The last attack he had occurred following a journey that he made to Arles, and it lasted approximately two months. In the interval between attacks the patient is perfectly calm and lucid, and passionately devotes himself to painting. He is asking to be discharged today, in order to go to live in the north of France, hoping that that climate will suit him better."5

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() Vincent van Gogh's bedroom ()

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ART THERAPY

Near Van Gogh's room there is now an art therapy workshop, which was established by the Valetudo association, whose purpose is to combine art and medical treatment. Valetudo is constituted by the caring volunteers and the patients needing psychiatric care. The art therapy programme consists of four weekly sessions of a painting workshop that are organized with an art therapist supervised by the referring psychiatrist of the workshop and assisted by a psychologist. The selected works, made by patients, are exhibited in the Valetudo gallery of the cultural center of the cloister Saint-Paul. Besides, Valetudo has been organizing in partnership with the prestigious New York "School of Visual Arts" an exhibition of photographs and paintings in the cloister of the building.6

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Paintings made by hospital's patients ()

  • Photos and main text by Rebecca Ventura @ and Antonio Esposito @ (February 2013 and September 2015)

Bibliography

  • Bernadette Murphy, Van Gogh's Ear: The True Story, Chatto & Windus, London 2016, pp.244

Webliography



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