St Riquier is about 10 kilometres to the north-east of, and easily accessible from, Abbeville.
From Abbeville follow the signs for Doullens and St Riquier along the D 925. If you are arriving by the coastal Autouroute A 16 there are two choices.
Coming from the north take Sortie 22 and having come through the Toll turn right at the roundabout following the signs towards St Riquier which will bring you onto the D 925.
Coming from the south it is quicker and slightly cheaper to leave the Autoroute at Sortie 21: Flixecourt. Turn north onto the D 1001 in the direction of Abbeville. On reaching Ailly le Haut Clocher turn right onto the D 32 following the sign for St Riquier.
There is usually plenty of parking space in front of the church.
During the reign of King Dagobert I (628-639) two Welsh monks: Cadoc and Fricor arrived in the town of Centule and converted Riquier (Richarius) the son of the governor. Riquier began spreading the word of his new found religion and spent time in England buying the freedom of slaves.
Riquier returned to Centule in about 638 and formed a monastic community based on the teachings of the Irish monk, St Columbán. In the 7th Century the monks would adhere to the Benedictine Order.
The abbey achieved patronage from King Dagobert I who visited the monastery and was won over by Riquier’s frank advice.
The Franks had invaded Gaul and only they had full rights within the new state. This gave them the power to speak openly and freely : to be frank.
Riquier eventually decided to give up his position and retired to the Crécy Forest as a hermit; he died there on 26th April 643. His body was brought back to the town which would in the centuries to come carry his name.
One of the abbots would be a son-in-law of Charlemagne and the local Counts of Ponthieu sent their sons destined for the church to the abbey for their education and one of them, Guy became Bishop of Amiens.
His teacher: Enguerrand the Wise was one of 300 monks who provided the education for 100 scholars. Enguerrand died in 1045 whilst the abbey was at the height of its powers and just before the Norman invasions over a quarrel concerning the houses of Ponthieu and Normandie.
For centuries St Riquier remained capital of the County of Ponthieu, its fortifications sheltering 15,000 inhabitants which is ten times the current population. The town’s royal patronage allowed it to carry the fleur de lys on its coat of arms.
However, a port would be built nearby on the Somme with its own abbey. This new abbey-town began to take precedence and in modern times Abbeville is the local administrative centre.
The church of St Riquier is described as an église abbatiale as it was attached to the Benedictine monastery.
The original abbey was built under the patronage of Charlemagne himself but was destroyed by the Normans (on a number of occasions) and a new abbey was built on top of its ruins from about the 13th century.
Ponthieu would be ravaged by the Hundred Years War (Battle of Crécy en Ponthieu 1346) and put to the sack in 1474 by the French King Louis XI who was not happy with the town siding with the Dukes of Burgundy (who were responsible for capturing Joan of Arc and handed her to their allies: the English).
Each time the abbey was rebuilt but the invasion by the Spanish King Philip II (Son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles Quint) was almost the final straw for the religious community. The abbey was destroyed and the monks dispersed. Then in the 17th Century restoration work began.
The exterior is flamboyant Gothic architecture of the 15th and 16th centuries and is unusual for two things. Firstly there is just the one 50 metre tower and secondly, if you look you will realise that there are no windows on the tower. Instead there are about fifty full sized statues depicting characters from both testaments of the bible.
The final restoration was completed in 2005 after 9,000 hours of cleaning work.
The interior is quite calm in comparison to the exterior though the vaulting is splendid; the organ is one of the oldest in the Somme and a listed monument in its own right. There are a number of references to Joan of Arc within the abbey as she was held prisoner in the town whilst being transferred to Rouen.
The abbey itself is now owned by the State and has become a museum of rural life. It was used as a military hospital during both World Wars, by the British and then by the Germans. The museum is free to visit and offers a number of articles about rural life in Picardie.
French history (if you could call it that) is very complicated and is in part proved by the beffroi (Belfry tower).
The town was one of the first to obtain a charter (In 1126) and a symbol of communal power was the watchtower. The original had to be demolished on the order of the Abbot as he deemed it too close for the comfort of the monks (read: power of the church).
The 18 metre tower we see today dates from 1283 and is one of 23 towers listed by UNESCO in the north of France – all of which were in Flanders – owned by the Dukes of Burgundy.
When Louis XI defeated Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, in 1482, Picardie finally came back into French hands, whilst Artois passed back into the control of the Hapsburgs.
Louis XI had almost completely destroyed the Beffroi in 1475 as an act of revenge for the town’s support for the Burgundians, but it was restored and now houses the Tourist Information Office.
St Riquier became a border town and it would only be during the reign of Louis XIII that from here to the current Belgian border would definitively become part of France. That explains why the nearby town of Hesdin celebrates its liberation in 1639.