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Encyclopedia > Saint Martial

Saint Martial was the first bishop of Limoges, in today's France , according to a life of Saturninus, first bishop of Toulouse, which Gregory of Tours quotes in his History of the Franks.


That is all that is known and it may be summed up thus: Under the Emperor Decius and of Gratus (250-251 CE), Pope Fabian sent out seven bishops from Rome to Gaul to preach the Gospel: Gatien to Tours, Trophimus to Arles, Paul to Narbonne, Saturnin to Toulouse, Denis to Paris, Austromoine to Clermont, and Martial to Limoges.


Martial was buried outside the Roman town, and as his tomb became progressively more important as a pilgrimage site, the monks found patronage in the Benedictine order in the 9th century. The site became the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Martial, a great library (second only to the library at Cluny) and scriptorium. The 12th-century chronicler Geoffroy du Breuil of Vigeois worked in its library.

The abbaye de Saint-Martial, one of the great pilgrimage churches of western Christianity, was so thoroughly razed in the 19th century, that only the scattered manuscripts of its library remain. Some of the abbey's library had been bought for Louis XV and have come to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The original crypt was exhumed in 1966-1970. Twelve Romanesque carved capitals were discovered built into the foundations of a barn and purchased in 1994 for the Museum of the Bishopric of Limoges.


The influx of pilgrims to the abbey where the historical Martial lay buried encouraged the creation of an elaborate hagiography during the 10th century. As the hagiography grew, Martial was moved back in time: now, sent into Gaul by St. Peter himself, he is said to have evangelized not only the Province of Limoges but all of Aquitaine. He performed many miracles, among others the raising of a dead man to life, by touching him with a rod that St. Peter had given him.

The mythology culminated in the 11th century forgeries of Ademar of Chabannes, The Life of St. Martial, attributed to Bishop Aurelian, his successor, which was designed to 'prove' that Martial had been present at the Last Supper and at the crucifixion, and was indeed one of the original apostles. The legendary Martial appears with many miracles, casting out fiends and raising the dead and encouraging mass baptisms, in the 13th century compendium of lore, the Golden Legend.

As late as 1854, Mons. Buissas, Bishop of Limoges, petitioned Pope Pius IX to bestow on Martial the honors of a disciple of Christ, but was turned down.

The full discovery of Ademar's tissue of forged documents, including an imaginary church council and a papal letter, was not revealed until the 1920s, and continued for several generations to be resisted in conservative Catholic circles.

Saint Martial is the name of several communes in France:

  • Saint-Martial, in the Ardèche département
  • Saint-Martial, in the Cantal département
  • Saint-Martial, in the Charente département
  • Saint-Martial, in the Charente-Maritime département
  • Saint-Martial, in the Gard département
  • Saint-Martial, in the Gironde département

It is also part of the name of several communes of France:

  • Saint-Martial-d'Albarède, in the Dordogne département
  • Saint-Martial-d'Artenset, in the Dordogne département
  • Saint-Martial-de-Gimel, in the Corrèze département
  • Saint-Martial-de-Mirambeau, in the Charente-Maritime département
  • Saint-Martial-de-Nabirat, in the Dordogne département
  • Saint-Martial-de-Valette, in the Dordogne département
  • Saint-Martial-de-Vitaterne, in the Charente-Maritime département
  • Saint-Martial-Entraygues, in the Corrèze département
  • Saint-Martial-le-Mont, in the Creuse département
  • Saint-Martial-le-Vieux, in the Creuse département
  • Saint-Martial-sur-Isop, in the Haute-Vienne département
  • Saint-Martial-sur-Né, in the Charente-Maritime département
  • Saint-Martial-Viveyrol, in the Dordogne département

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