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Monuments religious in Limousin

The Limousin was very soon a Christian land and a favorable place for the establishment of many hermitages which sometimes became prestigious monasteries.

The roman buildings are present everywhere as an invitation to lose yourself out of time. The Limousin made the choice to present its goldsmith pieces in the heart of their original church. So do not waste your pleasure to discover them


Today many associations save these unique testimonies and share their knowledge. Take the road with one of the many guides under your arms to apprehend the architecture diversity and this historic wealth.

Discover the main religious monuments in the Limousin region

The built and no built testimonies remind us the cultural, artistic and intellectual diffusion of the monks in Limousin all along the Middle Age.

All buildings point out the diversity of the different influences, and exhibit the different architectural choices of the builders’ workshops that could have developed in this region. These building choices answered, at that time, in the liturgy evolution, in the financial choices and in the « fashion trends ».

If we have almost none pre Romanesque testimonies, the Romanesque time is largely represented in its big diversity. However we can regret that two important limousine buildings have disappeared: the abbey of Saint-Martial and the abbey of Grandmont.

Start this cultural trip and capture a part of history.



In the 12th century, the religious Limousin spread over a land of about 900 square miles, with a thousand churches which had rights and the necessary personal for their operating. The bishop of Limoges had the religious and disciplinary responsibilities of this territorial complex he could practice with the similar rights of the churches in his responsibility.


In Saint Martial abbey was imposed during the Carolingian times the monastic rule of Saint Benoit and Cluny had brought again this observance in Saint Hughes period in 1062. For over two centuries the abbey won renown for the sacred sing and the miniature domains. It gave back to his celestial head saint the same honors as the Christ apostles, and its library counted half thousands of manuscripts. At the beginning of the 13th century, the community chronicler provided an inventory: 84 monks at the sanctuary’s service and twice more in around forty limousines monastic outhouses which resupplied the abbey.


Some of these outhouses were important: the Prevost area of Chambon that the body of the « protomartyr » Valerie honored, counted one hundred monks including one third for the impressive church sacred in 1212. Still in Limousin, the twenty monks of the old abbey of Vigeois depended on Saint-Martial. The number of every priory of Arnac, Saint-Vauly and La Souterraine exceeded ten monks, like in four other outhouses in the neighboring dioceses.


In Limoges, the feminine sanctuary had always been sheltered by the Saint-Etienne cathedral and also received the Benedictine code which designed it: Sainte Marie of the Rule. Besides, the bisop funded Saint-Augustin and Saint-Martin around the year 1000 with monks from Poitou. Very close to the episcopal city, each of the two abbeys was satisfied with few outbuildings. But not far from Limoges, Solignac was inspired by the Saint-Benoit rule as soon as it was funded by Saint-Eloi in the 7th century and even put it into practice in Beaulieu in the 9th century; older Solignac and Beaulieu had kept an honorable heritage. 


Further in Limousin, the two big Benedictine monasteries controlled since the 10th century a network of gradually extended outhouses: Saint-Martin de Tulle extended its authority over sixty outhouses up to the Quercy and Rocamadour; Uzerche ruled also the small limousines abbeys of Ahun and Meymac. In the 12th century, the Benedictine observance was developed so an abbey could if it needed choose an abbot in another one. An imposing cult in a richly ornamented church was the base of this observance.


(Source - Dom Jean BECQUET / La vie religieuse en Limousin aux XIIè et XIIIè siècles)



In opposition to the laic seigneuries parceling out, the diocese of Limoges conserved in the 11th and 12th centuries its integrity and its limits defined in the 4th century, nearly the actual Limousin ones. Besides it remained until the revolution, one of the widest of France despite the creation of the diocese of Tulle in 1317.


In the 11th and 12th centuries, the parish network was perfectly in place and it seems that it is only the administrative needs of the diocese that convinced the bishop to gather the parishes in new circumscriptions from the middle of the 11th century, the archpriests.

Beside its spiritual role, the bishop personified then a feudal power, equal to the viscounts’ one. However, the only difference is that his fiefdoms instead of being in one piece are spread over the diocese. So in Bas-Limousin, the princes have to consider the ecclesiastic lord who owned Lagraulière, Malemort and Brive.


In that way, the spiritual and temporal authority gave to the bishop the possibility to interfere in the laic lords’ life. Opposite to the feudal arbitrary, the ecclesiastic institution of the « pax episcopi » raised the bishop as the first social order representative. During the « Saint Anthony’s fire » in 994, the diocese of Limoges, in the person of the bishop, was one of the first example of « god peace » (Trève de Dieu) in France. Then for many circumstances during the 11th and 12th centuries he interfered in the domains basically relevant of the laic powers. So, in 1031 for the council of Limoges, the knights refusing to assure « peace and justice » were excommunicated.


It is also the time where the church, reinforcing the Christian conscience of a knight, gave to him a noble role but in the same time turned away the private quarrels. We know, on this matter, the importance of the pope Urbain II’s journey in Limoges for Christmas in 1095 and how his call for crusades was well heard in the region.


(Source - E. PROUST / La sculpture en Bas-Limousin)



Other big churches of Limousin were served by canon communities: in first place the cathedral dedicated to the protomartyr Saint-Etienne. These canons followed the quite flexible instructions given once by the Carolingian prelates and their emperor. Former monks’ communities joined those directives such as in St-Yrieix and St-Junien, the feudal collegial churches of le Dorat, Lesterps and Eymoutiers, founded around the year 1000, and also like the old sanctuaries of saint-Martin de Brive, Saint-Léonard de Noblat and Evaux. These diverse canon chapters could count on two or three ten of members and had, like the abbeys, rural outbuildings around the churches where they were the ecclesiastic boss more or less rented.


But in the second part of the 11th century, the instructions of a general reform circulated in the Latin Occident. The success of this reform was helped with a demographic boom, the consolidation of the feudal structures and a direct support of the Holly Siege and the pope’s legates. Limousine chapters showed their agreement to the reform by adopting the rule of Saint-Augustin that added to the normal celibacy of the clerks, an individual disapprobation of their properties controlled by the local communities. Thus, in Evaux, Lesterps, Brive, Saint-Léonard, the bishop interfered sometimes in the adoption of the new rule. Besides, the reform invited laics to give up the control they had on the rural churches and their incomes to the monks and canons by the intermediary of the bishop. They did it gladly since they could appreciate the morality and the selflessness of the beneficiaries. We saw then across the region the creation of regular monks’ new chapters, the bishop dotted with churches restituted by laics. These churches fell under the pastoral responsibility of those chapters and were so a source of income. This incitation received such a favorable echo that in the beginning of the 14th century there were almost no churches with laics power in Limousin anymore.


A limousine priest funded Le Chalard in 1088. Without adopting like him the new rule, the canons of Saint-Junien and those of the cathedral of Limoges established in the same time regular canons in Salles-Lavauguyon, Bénévent and Aureil. Aureil was a real success: around 1200, this priory owned about two hundred manuscripts. Dozen canons lived there and also children in school. And so, Aureil could send servants in twenty parish churches of its dependence. Obviously the holly people who reformed and founded those regular chapters received from the bishop or the pope the honor of the altars: Gautier of Lesterps (1070), Geoffroy of Chalard (1125), Gaucher of Aureil (1140). The enameled shrine of Chalard testimonies so the growth of the local relic treasure. It was realized by imitating the old sanctuaries and in a piety momentum to a sacred man still close.


(Source - Dom Jean BECQUET / La vie religieuse en Limousin aux XIIè et XIIIè siècles)



During the 12th century, the Limousin knew an amazing growth of little clerk fraternities and laics inspired by hermit saints settled in isolated places. Each of those rustic sites had its sober but enough spacious church to welcome eventually neighbors and friends. The brothers of Grandmont and those of Artige had also forty houses in the diocese. More than the Cistercians, these fraternities refused the responsibility and the incomes of the rural churches. They secured their subsistence with the work of the land and gifts from their beneficiaries. At the beginning of the 13th century, Grandmont had expanded in a hundred foundations of the domains of the Capetian Louis VII and the Plantagenet Henri II, successive husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine. The delegations of the brothers met every year « patron of the Order » in the Ambazac Mounts.


(Source - Dom Jean BECQUET / La vie religieuse en Limousin aux XIIè et XIIIè siècles)




The diocese of Limoges was during the Ancient Regime one of the largest of France, because until the 14th century, it covered approximatively the lands of the three actual departments of the region adding the arrondissement of Nontron (Dordogne) and Confolens (Charente). Concerning the creation of the diocese of Tulle in 1317 it took away out fifty parishes on a total of more than nine hundred.


Until 1317, year of creation by breaking up the diocese of Tulle, the Bas-Limousin was entirely embraced in the vast jurisdiction of the bishop of Limoges. Since then and until the Revolution, 52 parishes of the Xaintrie and the Saint-Martin abbey’s movement composed the jurisdiction of the diocese of Tulle created by Jean XXII.






The monastic society is another power very important in the diocese. From the end of the 11th century, it had in possession half of the churches, in other words a superior number of the churches owned directly by the bishop.

But if we exclude the Saint-Martin’s abbey center, we can say that it is the Bas-Limousin which appeared to be the election land of monasticism in the diocese. Indeed, it included the prestigious Benedictine abbeys of Beaulieu, Tulle, Uzerche and Vigeois, founded the last centuries. They constituted huge domains as we can see of their cartularies. These domains insured their fortune for over seven centuries. At the head of many priories, these abbeys practiced an influence exceeding often the limits of the diocese. In this way, the biggest possessions of Saint-Martin of Tulle and Saint Pierre of Beaulieu were located in Quercy, while Saint-Pierre of Vigeois owns priories in Périgord.


(Source - E. PROUST / La sculpture en Bas-Limousin)

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