Clairac

The history of Clairac, a small village of 2,600 inhabitants built beside the Lot, is inseparable from that of its famous Benedictine abbey. In the Middle Ages, the abbey had an international reputation and influence in the fields of politics, religion, literature and gastronomy.
Legend has it that the abbey was founded in the eighth century by Pepin the Short. According to tradition, Pepin’s son Charlemagne fought and defeated a Moorish army here. A divine light lingered over the battlefield seemingly proclaiming the enemy’s defeat, and Charlemagne is said to have given the nearby abbey the name of “Clara Luce” which then became Clairac.

The Ente plum

Agen owes its famous prunes to the monks of Clairac. Originally from Syria, they were brought to south-west France shortly after the Crusades, the Damascus plum tree was “enté” ("grafted" in old French) onto local plum trees by the monks in Clairac, thereby creating the date plum or Agen plum. The name of Ente plum did not appear until the nineteenth century.
The drying of the plums in the sun, that was also perfected by the monks, enables the fruit to be stored for long periods without losing its nutritional qualities. This was the birth of the “Agen prune”, named after the port from which they were distributed.

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Clairac - Prune d’Ente

Clairac Abbey

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Clairac - Abbaye Bénédictine

Clairac Abbey, and the little town that developed around its walls, were at their peak in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. According to some texts, there were then 120 monks who worked in the fields as well as copying manuscripts. The abbot of Clairac, who was also lord of the village, ruled over two bastides (walled towns), five priories and fifty parishes. The monks also owned two mills on the Lot, one for grain, the other for fulling cloth. At that time, the Abbey of Clairac generated considerable income.

The monastery included the Benedictine abbey church of Saint Peter, founded in the late twelfth century, and monastic buildings such as the library, refectory and chapter house.
The village was besieged several times during the Hundred Years War. The site was abandoned by the villagers and the monks for a period in the fourteenth century. But it was during the wars of religion that the monastery and its occupants suffered the most.
Indeed, Clairac the sixteenth century is no longer the champion of the monastic life but that of the Protestant Reformation to the point that the town of “Geneva Agen” we called it. Under Abbot Gerard Roussel, married monks, burned sacred objects and did not hesitate to kill a large part of the church of which he remains today as the north transept and apse. In 1560, a synod Clairac even welcomed the initiative of Theodore Beza, a leading Protestant theologians. The town then became the motto “Clairac city without Roy, soldiers without fear” and was surrounded by fortifications.

Half-timbered houses

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Clairac - Maison Montesquieu

Many half-timbered houses remain from this period, like that of the notary Bertrand, whose framework consists of wood poles, arranged vertically and in a fish-bone pattern, and then filled with small bricks. The beginning of the seventeenth century would seem to have been a period of prosperity for the town, reflected by the numerous works that were undertaken such as the port on the Lot and the restoration of the medieval wash house known as the “Font Grand”. It was at this time also that the abbey began to cultivate its first tobacco crops.

With the reign of Louis XIII, the opposition between Catholics and Protestants became more violent than ever. Clairac revolted against Richelieu and the king himself laid siege to the village, whose fortifications were destroyed in 1621. Following the revocation of the edict of Nantes the Protestants were obliged to meet in secret.
When the Revolution came, Clairac abbey’s chapter was dissolved and all its annuities and privileges were abolished. In the nineteenth century, the interior of the church was renovated in the neo-classical style. The paintings by the Italian painter Masutti, who carried out numerous works in the Val of the Garonne, were produced in around 1936.

Prune production

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Pruneau d’Agen

prune production continues in the area around Clairac and there are numerous prune farmers along the banks of the Lot. In Laffite-sur-Lot, one can visit the Maison de la pruneau, a family business that has been making prunes for four generations, or the Ferme and its Prune Museum, which presents, with a guided tour, a vast collection dedicated to this ancient tradition.

Abbey, the train museum and the Magic Forest is closed since 2006.