Mont-Saint-Eloi is one of eight villages in the Pays d’Artois to be awarded the Heritage Villages (Villages Patrimoine©) label. Just 10 minutes from Arras, perched on a hill, Mont-Saint-Eloi is well known for the two ruined towers of its abbey which overlook the whole plain. It is also a highly valued nature spot surrounded by woods and little treasures of the local heritage waiting to be discovered on the numerous trails on offer.
A hilltop village
Its charm is immediately apparent when you “climb up” to Mont-Saint-Eloi.
Little roads edged by farms and pretty houses built in white stone (taken from the abbey ruins) lead you to an elevation of 136 metres. Leave your car in the car park. A vast esplanade edged with mature trees offers a splendid panoramic view over the entire Scarpe Valley and the Artois plain. In the distance, you can make out the church in Ecoivres (a hamlet of Mont-Saint-Eloi) with its crocketed spire. A little further to the right, the Twin Stones of Acq and then the Ecoivres wood, which explains the birth of the abbey.
One of the biggest abbeys of the Hauts-de-France
In fact, the tomb of Saint Vindicianus, buried here in the seventh century, was rediscovered in Ecoivres wood.
This disciple of Saint Eloi was the evangeliser of the territory and Bishop of Cambrai and Arras. In order to house his miraculous relics, an initial monastery was built on the hill. It was later enlarged in the eleventh century to become an immense abbey whose influence extended right across the Pays d’Artois. Sold as a national asset during the Revolution, the abbey was converted into a stone quarry and literally pillaged in the nineteenth century.
Place of remembrance
Spared from being broken up, the tall abbey towers were listed as Historical Monuments in 1921.
They once stood 53 metres tall! Used as a strategic observation post during the First World War, they were pounded by German artillery fire which demolished the upper level. The village was occupied by Allied troops in preparation for the attacks on Lorette and Vimy Ridge in 1915, and later to defend the city of Arras in 1940. At the bottom of the village, Berthonval farm was used as a rear base.
Famous people who died for their country
When you reach the centre of the village, a commemorative plaque will attract your attention. It is dedicated to the memory of François Faber, a racing cyclist from Luxembourg and winner of the Tour de France in 1909.
Le 9 mai 1915 son régiment participe à la seconde Bataille d’Artois. Leur point de départ est le secteur de Berthonval à Mont-Saint-Eloi, leur objectif : la côte 140 sur la Crête de Vimy via les ouvrages blancs (fortifications allemandes situées à Neuville-Saint-Vaast).
He died in action during that attack and his body was never found. If you are fascinated by remembrance trails, pause for a moment to the right of the abbey where a monument close to the municipal cemetery pays tribute to 57 soldiers of the 4th Motorised Dragoon Regiment, killed while attempting to halt the German invasion in 1940. A little further down, in the hamlet of Ecoivres, a war cemetery is the resting place of 2,400 soldiers who fell during the First World War. Kenneth Weeks, a Francophile American writer enlisted in the Foreign Legion, is buried in the municipal cemetery.
Nature in all its grandeur
To learn more about the formation of the hill of Saint-Eloi, head to the hamlet of Bray and its chalk quarry on the Maroeuil road.
At the foot of the hill, there are still outcrops of chalk protected by a thick layer of sandstone. You are standing at the centre of the geological strata of the Artois, formed 90 million years ago!
A perfect terrain for cycling and walking
The steep paths of Mont-Saint-Eloi are ideal for cycle racing. Every year, they play host to the “Boucle de l’Artois” event, and they witnessed the passage of champions of the “4 Jours de Dunkerque” race and of the Tour de France in 2018 and 2015 respectively.
Mont-Saint-Eloi in practice
- Open-acces sites with interpretation boards along the route. The Village Patrimoine© trail takes you on a tour of six major points of interest.
- The steep paths of Mont-Saint-Eloi are ideal for cycle racing. Every year, they play host to the “Boucle de l’Artois” event, and they witnessed the passage of champions of the “4 Jours de Dunkerque” race and of the Tour de France in 2018 and 2015 respectively.
- Event: the “Souvenir d’un Grand Duc, de Tour en Tour” sound and light show every year in September. http://www.grandduc.asso.fr/
- The “Sentier des 3 Abbayes” trail – 16 km – 4 hours (on foot), Mont-Sant-Eloi – Etrun- Maroeuil. This will take you through a variety of nature and history sites such as the Maroeuil marsh and the remains of the Benedictine abbeys of Maroeuil and Etrun.
- The “Sentier des Pierres du Diable” trail – 10 km – 2 hours 30 minutes (on foot). This offers superb views over Mont-Saint-Eloi, and takes you on a discovery of the Twin Stones.
- The Camino de Compostela and the Via Francigena, a pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome, pass through Mont-Saint-Eloi. You can reach Arras along the GR 145.
- The tourist cycle trail “Hauts-Lieux de la Grande Guerre en France” (Major Great War sites in Artois), 29.5 km, 3 hours.