In a booklet prepared for the twenty-fifth anniversary festival in 1983, and again in 2006 on the eve of his death, Raymond Micha, the festival’s founding father, recounted some of his happiest memories from the many years of artistic endeavours. Now we have the privilege of carrying forward his legacy, our festival, into its sixty-fourth season. The guiding principles that have made it so enduring and successful remain the same; showcasing music of the highest calibre, in a convivial and relaxed atmosphere between artists, organisers and the public alike. Since the very beginning, the festival has been driven by an army of selfless and dedicated volunteers, and those that have been there from the earliest days have now been joined by a new and equally enthusiastic generation. So the festival looks back with pride, and forwards with confidence.
The history of the principality
In the 7th century, Remacle, a Benedictine monk from Aquitaine, built a monastery at Stavelot-Malmedy as a place of contemplation and later as a base from where to spread his faith. Siegbert III, the King of the Francs, makes reference to the two Abbeys at Malmedy and at Stavelot at the time of their foundation around 648 A.D. Over the next eleven centuries, Stavelot developed a reputation as a cultural, artistic and spiritual centre. However, the revolutionary winds from France brought this glorious period to an abrupt end in 1794. Fortunately the majority of the Abbey’s buildings survived along with some of the religious treasures (the shrine, or reliquary, of St. Remacle and a bust of St. Poppon at the Church of St. Sebastian) but sadly the great romanesque basilica, one of the finest medieval churches in the Meuse region dating from the 10th to 12th centuries was lost. Today only the faintest outlines of the building can be found in the Abbey parkland.
The Abbey today
The modern visitor can enjoy a building that has benefitted over time from sensitive reconstruction and conservation. The Abbey now hosts a number of cultural institutions, most notably the superb Museum of the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy. In addition there is the Monk’s Refectory, the François Prume Room, the cloisters and the cavernous romanesque cellars, not forgetting the Guillaume Apollinaire Museum, the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit Museum, the main library, the Tourist Centre and the Centre for Culture with its many activities. Open air events are held in the beautiful Place Saint-Remacle surrounded by echoes of the Abbey, a perfect framework for celebrating our local history.
So the noble and ancient Abbey is now the setting for a cultural and artistic renaissance that grows year on year, and once again the city of the Princely Abbey is known, reborn as a centre for culture, folk traditions and local tourism. Along with its location within the beautiful Ardennes, there is much to discover and enjoy in our beloved and historic town of Stavelot.