Le Mas d’Agenais
LE MAS D’AGENAIS
- Point de vue du Mas d’Agenais
Perched on the top of a limestone terrace overlooking the Garonne Valley and the Canal, Mas d’Agenais is one of the oldest villages in the Lot-et-Garonne. Occupied by the Romans, the site has more than 2000 years of history and offers some remarkable treasures such as the Venus of Mas d’Agenais.
The village of Mas d’Agenais has changed its location three times over the course of its long history. The original settlement, known as Ussubium, dates from between the first and third centuries and is located to the west of the current town centre. The site then moved to its final location and became Pompejacum, a name that it kept until the eleventh century, when the name “Mas” appeared for the first time.
- Le Mas d’Agenais - La Venus du Mas
Among the various remnants of the Gallo-Roman period, there is votive stele in the village church with a Latin inscription that refers to the protecting goddess of Ussubium. The stele has since been turned into a font. But the real jewel from this period is without doubt the “Venus of Mas” statue. This Greek work from the school of Praxiteles dates from the first century B.C.; it has been kept at the Museum of Agen since its discovery in 1876. Finally, it is said that, just below the village, the noise of the little “fountain of Galiane” has been heard for at least 2000 years. Today it supplies water to the beautiful wash house with its five-sided roof.
The village’s history is directly linked to the legend of Saint Vincent of Agen, a Deacon and Aquitaine martyr who modelled his life on that of Saint Vincent of Saragossa. According to some texts, a first basilica built in the fifth century housed the relics of the saint and became a pilgrimage destination. It was destroyed in the Norman invasion.
The riches of Mas d’Agenais:
Construction of the present church began in 1085 and was completed 40 years later. Like the previous basilica, it was a collegiate church, whose prior administered the village directly and held the “three hands of justice” (high and low justice, and the right to levy taxes); the three hands were used in the design of the town’s coat of arms (in the twentieth century).
- Le Mas d’Agenais - collegiale
The Romanesque style church was built in the Benedictine tradition with an apse surrounded by apsidioles, a transept and three naves. The church was fully restored in the nineteenth century by the architects Abadie and Violet le Duc. The sculptural shapes were inspired by the Romanesque art of the Languedoc and Saintonge.
Originally, the building had a tall spire covered in slate, similar to the steeples in the Vendée and Breton regions. Having fallen into a state of dangerous disrepair, it was destroyed in the nineteenth century and today has a truncated appearance.
The church is extraordinarily richly furnished, and even contains a work by Rembrandt, one of the greatest painters of all time. His Christ on the Cross was painted in 1631 and came to Mas by a complicated route. Purchased at an auction at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was originally part of a series of paintings commissioned by Prince Frederick Henry of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange-Nassau. The other paintings in the series are displayed in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.
- Le Mas d’Agenais - La Halle au blé
In the Middle Ages, the village was surrounded by a brick wall with five high gates, of which only the one adjacent to a small seigneurial château still remains. Obsolete and in a ruined state, the château was destroyed in the seventeenth century and its beams reused to build the covered wheat market, which now accommodates the village’s flourishing weekly market on Thursday mornings.
Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the ferryman was the only means of travelling between the banks of the Garonne. A toll suspension bridge was built in 1840 and later adapted to the requirements of twentieth century traffic.
These days, the landing stage on the Garonne canal, the voie verte ("green route"), the hiking trails and the cycle touring routes that pass through the vast forest make Mas d’Agenais a great destination for boat trips, mountain biking, and walking.
In the summer, the village offers numerous events such as the Foulées des Matins Verts, a running race from the town centre to the neighbouring town of Tonneins in June.
- Le Mas d’Agenais - Pont