Curled up in a loop of the Cérou river around the St Pierre church, this quiet and harmonious village is recognised for a pinnacle of religious statuary.
In fact, Monestiés shelters twenty life sized statues made of painted limestone which illustrate the three last episodes of the Passion of Christ – the Crucifixion, the Pieta, and the entombment. This masterpiece was commissioned by the bishop of Albi, Louis I of Amboise in 1490 for his castle at Combéfa several kilometers from Monesties. The castle was finally abandoned and partly demolished. The inhabitants of Monesties were permitted to transport these heavy statues and delivered them on their own to the St Jacques chapel, an ancient hospital for pilgrims to Compostela, where this monumental work remains to this day.
The village also has an enjoyable museum of modern art featuring the canvases of Francisco Bajen and Martine Véga, Spanish artists who were married and had fled the regime of General Franco. Two different styles of art which mix the suffering of exile, spirituality and the search for the inner self.
Nestling in a meander of the river Cérou, Monestiés lies between the towns of Cordes and Carmaux in the department of the Tarn, southwest France.
The first documentary evidence of its existence goes back to 936 A.D. at the time of the donation of the church of St Pierre to the Abbot Déodat of St Salvy by King Louis IV. The name comes from “monasterio” and suggests that the village either belonged to a monastic order, or that there was a small monastery nearby.
After the crusade against the Albigeois in 1229 the village passed into the hands of the Bishops of Albi who placed it under the protection of joint Lords of the Manor. At that time, many “bastide” towns were being created in the south of France, characterised by a grid pattern of streets around a central market place. Monestiés is different because it developed concentrically around the church with half-timbered and corbelled houses built to no particular pattern. The village is fortified: the ramparts, surrounded by a water-filled moat, are pierced by three gates closed by drawbridges and protected by towers.
A small hospital was built outside the walls during the 13th century to succour pilgrims using this secondary route to Santiago de Compostela.
The construction in the 15th century of a new Gothic church on the foundations of the former Romanesque one suggests that the village was increasing in size at that time.
The village was caught up in the economic expansion of the 18th century: records show 23 trades people and 13 markets per year. No fewer than 14 weavers worked in the village, which was best known for its hemplinen (canvas) fair and its donkey fair. At this time the village started to open up and develop towards the exterior: the ramparts were pierced to allow access to the market-place and the moat was filled in to make space for ????
However, the 19th century saw the economic decline of Monestiés linked to the development of coal-mining at Carmaux and the arrival from elsewhere of cotton fabrics which put the local hemp weavers out of business.