Le Mandarom in Castellane: Spirituality and controversy

A controversial haven of peace

Perched high above Castellane, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region of France, the Mandarom is an atypical monastery. Founded in 1978 by Gilbert Bourdin, a controversial figure proclaiming himself to be the “cosmoplanetary messiah”, the site has a chequered history, oscillating between spirituality and accusations of sectarian aberrations.

The Mandarom aims to be a meeting place for the world’s great religions, advocating unity and universal peace. Its architecture, a blend of Eastern and Western styles, symbolizes this desire for synthesis. The giant 33-metre-high statue of the “Cosmo Planetary Messiah” once dominated the site and was its emblem. It was dynamited following a court decision.

However, from the outset, Mandarom has been the subject of criticism and controversy. Gilbert Bourdin’s personality, practices and speeches were accused of being sectarian and manipulative. Followers also complained of physical and psychological abuse.

In 1997, the police raided the site and charged Gilbert Bourdin with breach of trust, fraud and illegal practice of medicine. He was sentenced to prison. Two former followers who were minors at the time also accused Gilbert Bourdin of rape. He died in 1998, but was never brought to trial for these charges.

Access to Mandarom: a special experience

Le Mandarom is an isolated spot, accessible only by a steep, winding road. From Castellane, take the D955 towards Saint-André-les-Alpes. Shortly before reaching Lac de Castillon, turn right on to the D402. The road then rises above the lake and you pass the first hamlet of La Baume. Shortly after La Baume and before reaching Blaron, you’ll find the Mandarom. Visits to the site are only open to the public by appointment and with the agreement of those in charge.

A warm welcome is extended to visitors, who are always ready to explain their philosophy and way of life. The guided tour takes in the monastery’s various buildings, temples and statues, as well as its meticulously landscaped gardens.

The atmosphere at Mandarom is very special. A sense of calm and serenity pervades the premises. The wild, grandiose natural surroundings contribute to this unique atmosphere. As does the plunging view over the turquoise waters of Lac de Castillon.

Mandarom in Castellane today: an uncertain future

Since Gilbert Bourdin’s death in 1998, Mandarom has been run by a college of leaders. Christine Amory-Mazaudier, a physics researcher at the CNRS and Polytechnique, has taken up the torch and lives in harmony with her peers. The site continues to welcome followers and visitors, but its influence and influence seem to have diminished. In 2014, the Mandarom sect claimed over 1,200 members worldwide, a third of whom are located in the South of France. Today, nearly a dozen live on the Castellane site.

On April 30, 2021, the French courts definitively condemned the monastery to restore part of the Verdon hill. In fact, the sect had converted it into a 33-metre-high pyramid-temple. This despite the cancellation of a building permit in 1992. This financial and legal situation has put the Mandarom’s future in jeopardy, just as it has fascinated a large part of southern France.

The Mandarom remains a fascinating and controversial place. Its history and operation raise important questions about spirituality, freedom of conscience and sectarian aberrations.

Le Mandarom in Castellane is a unique place that leaves no one indifferent. Its eventful history, atypical architecture and controversial practices make it a subject for study and reflection. The future of this site remains uncertain, but it will undoubtedly continue to intrigue and fascinate.