The abbey was established in the fog of time between the fourth and seventh centuries A.D., and, in form and purpose, it was clearly an anticipation of the machine age that would not be seen in full flower for another thousand years or so. They had either discovered or perfected complex applications of the lever, the wheel, the axle, the pulley, the inclined wedge, and the screw.
The founder, a hermit monk identified in the incunabula of the abbey as Martin the Assayer (whose true name may have been Robert Clef), is credited with the invention of the mechanical bread oven and the oscillating toothbrush. And his famous proof linking clean, mechanical efficiency with absolute virtue remains a model for students of logic and metaphysics.
The architectural features of the abbey betray an unmistakable preoccupation with the wheel, cog, and gear, but most especially pullies and levers. Much of the statuary of the late period, in fact, was animated by means of clockwork mechanisms of such ingenius design that today it is a veritable shrine for theme park planners the world over.
It has also been claimed that it was Martin the Assayer, not Leonardo, who first conceived the notion of the rotor-propelled flying machine.
The documents of the abbey number in the hundreds. They inform us that the order shunned religious matters, preferring to occupy its members with issues of architectural engineering, mathematics, mechanics, and alchemy. The symbol of the order, which decorates the frontispieces of its chief manuals, shows a measuring rod suspended over a chaldron, the contents of which are being stirred by rays of sunlight fashioned in the form of an Archimedean screw.