At the point where the intersection of the roads from Lyon to Saintes and Bourges to Bordeaux meet the Vienne river, Limoges was an inevitable point of passage. One of the abiding mysteries of the Pilgrim’s Guide is the absence of any mention of its patron Saint Martial.
By the mid twelfth century the abbey at Limoges was one of the largest and most important pilgrimage sanctuaries in France. Its church was among the five great pilgrimage churches, each built to the same plan; Saint Martin of Tours, Sainte Foy of Conques, Saint Sernin of Toulouse, Santiago de Compostela and the Limousin abbey. All these buildings were constructed to manage a very large flow of pilgrims and all are promoted at length in the Guide, with the notable exception of Saint Martial de Limoges.
Notwithstanding, it would seem unlikely in the extreme that travellers to Compostela would have missed the opportunity to venerate the relics of Saint Martial, passing as they did, within just twenty-five miles at Saint Léonard-de-Noblat, which could in no way compete for prestige.
Martial’s tomb had been a site of worship since the fourth century when the first church was built over the crypt containing the relics and the cult of his mortal remains became widely known and established quite early on.
As Saint Martial’s prestige increased ever larger church buildings succeeded one another. In 994 a plague epidemic in the region drew vast numbers to his shrine seeking cure and the need for yet a bigger church became apparent.
The relics of the saint were transferred from the underground crypt and placed on one of the piers of the choir, in full view of the assembled crowds.
Gregory of Tours claimed Martial was one of the seven bishop sent out from Rome in the mid-third century during the time of the Consulate of Decius and Gratus. Each bishop was assigned a specific town and Limoges was the chosen destination for Martial.
Martials’ legend became so exaggerated during the medieval period that the true identity of the saint must remain a puzzle.
During the early eleventh century, the chronicler of the abbey of Saint Martial, Adhemar de Chabannes made claims that Martial was sent directly by Saint Peter and that he had been an original disciple of Christ, present at the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.
In 1031, the Pope elevated Saint Martial to Apostolic status. Many new miracles were reported, including one where Martial had resurrected a man using a rod given to him by Saint Peter.
The Romanesque abbey church of Saint Martial, dedicated to the Holy Saviour was thoroughly destroyed during the French Revolution.