Corbie Abbey

Abbey church of Corbie.

Corbie Abbey is a former Benedictine monastery in Corbie, Picardy, France, dedicated to Saint Peter.


It was founded in about 659/661 under Merovingian royal patronage by Balthild, widow of Clovis II, and her son Clotaire III. The first monks came from Luxeuil Abbey, which had been founded by Saint Columbanus in 590, and the Irish respect for classical learning fostered there was carried forward at Corbie. The rule of the founders was based on the Benedictine rule, as Columbanus had modified it.

Besides gifts of estates to support the abbey, many exemptions were granted to the abbots, to free them from interference from local bishops: the exemptions were confirmed in 855 by Pope Benedict III. The abbots ranked as counts and had the privilege of a mint.

Carolingian period

Corbie continued its intimate links with the royal house of the Carolingians. In 774 Desiderius, last King of the Lombards, was exiled here after his defeat by Charlemagne. From 850 to 854 Charles, the future Archbishop of Mainz, was confined here. Members of the Carolingian house sometimes served as abbots; a notable abbot was Saint Adalard, one of Charlemagne's cousins.

In the ninth century Corbie was larger than St. Martin's Abbey at Tours, or Saint Denis at Paris. Corvey Abbey in Saxony was founded from Corbie in about 820, and was named after it.

Adam and Eve on a late 12th century capital from the abbey (Musée de Picardie, Amiens)

Above all, Corbie was renowned for its library, which was assembled from as far as Italy, and for its scriptorium. In addition to its patristic writings, it is recognized as an important center for the transmission of the works of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. An inventory (of perhaps the 11th century) lists the church history of Hegesippus, now lost, among other extraordinary treasures. In the scriptorium at Corbie the clear and legible hand known as Carolingian minuscule was developed, in about 780 , as well as a distinctive style of illumination.

Three of Corbie's ninth-century scholars were Ratramnus (died c. 868), Radbertus Paschasius (died 865) and the shadowy figure of Hadoard. Jean Mabillon, the father of paleography, had been a monk at Corbie.

Among students of Tertullian, the library is of interest as it contained a number of unique copies of Tertullian's works, the so-called corpus Corbiense and included some of his unorthodox Montanist treatises, as well as two works by Novatian issued pseudepigraphically under Tertullian's name. The origin of this group of non-orthodox texts has not satisfactorily been identified.[1]


Among students of medieval architecture and engineering, such as are preserved in the notebooks of Villard de Honnecourt, Corbie is of interest as the center of renewed interest in geometry and surveying techniques, both theoretical and practical, as they had been transmitted from Euclid through the Geometria of Boethius and works by Cassiodorus (Zenner).

Modern times

In 1638, 400 manuscripts were transferred to the library of the monastery of St. Germain des Prés in Paris. In the French Revolution, the library was closed and the last of the monks dispersed: 300 manuscripts still at Corbie were moved to Amiens, 15 km to the west. Those at St-Germain des Prés were released on the market, and many rare manuscripts were obtained by a Russian diplomat, Petrus Dubrowsky, and sent to St. Petersburg. Other Corbie manuscripts are at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Over two hundred manuscripts from the great library at Corbie are known to survive.


List of abbots

This list is drawn from the Dictionnaire d'Histoire et de Géographie Ecclesiastique.

Regular abbots
Commendatory abbots


  1. "Monks irritated by the interference of secular bishops may have found these works of Tertullian were congenial company! Perhaps this explains why such anti-establishment works were preserved".

Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 49°54′32″N 2°30′37″E / 49.90889°N 2.51028°E / 49.90889; 2.51028

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