The abbey was founded on the site of the tomb of Saint-Riquier in the 7th century AD. It was Charlemagne himself who charged his son-in-law Angilbert with the construction of a new abbey, to be made using the finest materials, and transforming the structure into a model of religious architecture for Western European ecclesiastical construction. Over the ensuing centuries it became an outstanding example of Gothic architecture, and in spite of successive destructions by fire and looting, even today it remains one France's most beautiful buildings, thanks in no small part to the works undertaken by Father Charles Aligre, in the 17thseventeenth AD.
Acquired by the Department of the Somme in 1972, the Abbey now houses a Cultural Meeting Center, inaugurated in January 2012, and an annex of the departmental library. Each summer for the last 27 years, the walls of the abbey have resonated to the sounds of musicians participating in the Saint-Riquier - Somme Bay Festival, much to the delight of lovers of music.
The abbey church
The Saint Riquier abbey church is a unique example of the evolution of Gothic architecture, combining elements belonging to the early, classical and flamboyant Gothic architecture. The facade of the abbey dates from the 16th century and is dominated by its single, windowless, 50-metre central tower, ornately decorated by numerous statues, embedded in a dense network of arches and lines.
The central tympanum, representing the Tree of Jesse, is crowned by a sculpture representing the Trinity, two priests and the apostles, and is itself dominated by representations of the coronation of the Virgin Mary, St. Michael, Adam and Eve, and the prophets Moses and Elijah. Since the 20th century, successive restorations have been undertaken to rejuvenate elements including the faces of statues, buttresses and facings. The western facade was fully restored by reconstituting elements of heavily degraded statues, and revealing the original polychromatic colors of numerous elements.
The abbey is the property of the town council and has since become a local parish church, and the principal venue of the annual Music Festival of Saint-Riquier - Somme Bay, held each July.
The western wing of the buildings surrounding the abbey is one of the most interesting and authentic architectural elements of the abbey, and retains many of its original 18th structural and decorative elements.
The south wing retains only the ground-floor level of its original 17th century walls, complete with large windows opening directly onto the garden. The remainder of the wing has since been rebuilt. A ground floor exhibition space, once devoted to a display of rural life, has been entirely refurbished. From the end of June 2012, it will be the new home of temporary exhibitions.
The east wing has retained its 17th century walls, however its interior layout has since been completely reorganised.
The 19th century buildings
The building located within the grounds and extending from the east wing, was built in the 19th century to house classrooms of a small seminary.
Two early 19th century Picardy barns have been relocated from Omécourt, in the neighboring department of Oise, to the grounds. They were bought by the national government and reassembled in the abbey park in the 1980s, using traditional materials and techniques.
The abbey lodge
The abbey lodge is one of the most authentic vestiges of the 17th century Maurist Abbey. Built at the time of Charles Aligre, it was purchased following the French revolution by the local parish priest and later used by the small seminary. It remained virtually intact until the WWII German occupation, and today houses an annex of the departmental library.
The grounds and gardens
A stroll through the abbey grounds provides an opportunity to admire the Picardy barns, the small seminary and the outer wall forming a wooded, square and almost enclosed garden. Stretching over its 3 hectares are more than 200 fruiting and non-fruiting trees, such as apples, pears, cherries, peaches, plum vines, chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts.
The sculptor Albert Hirsch Has lived and worked in the Somme since 1973. Early on in his career, he changed his approach to the materials with which he worked: from merely a means to an end, they became the source of inspiration and, ultimately, an end unto itself. After working initially with plaster, stone and wood, he now concentrates his work on less-frequently used materials, such as slate, steel and even water, using them to create monumental works dedicated to themes combining light and space. In addition sculpture, Albert talents extend to drawing, painting and photography. An aficionado of dance and music, he likes to define himself as a “jazz sculptor”. This particular passion has resulted in frequent collaborations with musician friends Georges Pludermacher and Steve Lacy, often invited by Hirsch to perform on the site of his own exhibitions.