Saint Vaast abbey was founded in the 7th century on the site of the oratory where it is said that Saint Vaast, the first bishop of Arras who died in 540, sometimes came for a retreat. Saint Aubert, Bishop of Arras and Cambrai, brought here some of the remains of Saint Vaast. A very important donation made by the Merovingian king Thierry III allowed it to grow in the next century. Various construction campaigns succeed one another and allowed the abbey to be organised around a Gothic church built in the second half of the 13th century.
However, little by little, the monastery posed many maintenance problems. In 1743, the community decided to completely rebuild the church and these disparate buildings. However, the site was unfinished at the time of the Revolution. The monks were expelled in 1789. The abbey church, still under construction, was offered by Napoleon to the bishop to make it his cathedral. The monastic buildings were reassigned. The museum was set up there in 1832.
It did not escape the First World War: on July 5, 1915, the abbey burned down. The fire devastated the buildings, museum collections and the printed wealth of the library. The abbey was reduced to ruins and the municipality of Arras thought about preserving it in this state, as a testimony to the martyr status of the city. It took all the strength of conviction of Pierre Paquet, architect of the reconstruction of the city, to convince everyone of the architectural importance of the building and the need to reconstruct it. The restoration began in 1920 and lasted fourteen years.
Today, the city of Arras has brought together the museum, the conservatory, the cultural office and the media library within the abbey to make it a place of cultural and artistic innovation, a place of influence for the city.
It is the medieval sculpture, located in the cloister galleries, which headlines the collections with major works including two polychrome wooden angels said to be by Saudemont of the thirteenth century, the mosaic tombstone of Bishop Frumaud, fragment of a 14th century recumbent figure of infinite delicacy and the frightful transi of Guillaume Lefranchois from the fifteenth century.