top of page

Music, literature and poestry

The Limousin had been fertile ground for the creation of music since the 9th century. The Abbeys were at the heart of choral innovations due to their links with artistic centres in the Meuse valley region from, for example, the Abbeys at Jumièges, Saint-Marin de Tours et Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire.


The Limousine Abbeys strove to perfect and implement musical variations to glorify and intensify the liturgical chants to their saints. This musical effervescence opened up a whole new universe.


This dynamic research into liturgical music was fertile ground for a secular poetry. The Limousin became, in effect, the cradle of the troubadour tradition. During the 12th century, troubadours sang in the language of the people and took the 'limouzi' language into the courts of the stately homes from the Limousin down to Catalonia and Aragon.


Ecoles de musiques au Moyen Age

Ecoles de musiques au Moyen Age

The important repertory of Saint-Martial abbey covering many kinds of liturgical music, mostly plainchant but three of them polyphonic, many originating from St Martial itself or elsewhere in Limoges, some from slightly further afield. The notation is mostly in the local ‘Aquitanian neumes’, varying from a primitive 9th-century style to the more developed ‘square notation’ of the late 12th century. Their rhythmic interpretation is uncertain.


It was in Limousin that the earliest troubadour lyrics known to us were composed, and this district with the adjacent Poitou and Saintonge may therefore be reasonably regarded as the birthplace of Provençal lyric poetry. In any case, linguists and philologists today, ever since Dante (De vulgari eloquentia—”On the Eloquence of Vernacular”), recognize all these dialects under the designation of “romance languages.

It was also during the 12th century when we saw the first liturgical theatre with the creation of the Sponsus (The Bridegroom). This text is the oldest latin language, dramatic text and dates from 1139. It incorporates the everyday language of the region (Occitan) and tells Jesus' parable of the ten virgins. This religiously inspired poetry predates the flood of poetry from the troubadours, which would come at the end of the century.



The Limousin is also at the heart of the story surrounding the origins of the Occitan language. In the Middle Ages, before Occitan, the people spoke Provencale, Limousin and later Gascon, which were regional terms. Occitan became the common literary language even for Catalan and Italian authors, who all used it in their writing. The Occitan language was in direct contrast to that of the North, called French or the King's Language. It was Dante who is credited with the first written description of the 'differences' between the three major Romantic literary languages of the time. His example used the word for "yes" from each, which gave us the òc language (Occitan), the oïl language (French), and the sì language (Italian).

The Music school of the abbey Saint Martial of Limoges


The first Occitan texts came from the Abbey of Saint Martial of Limoges sometime between the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the 12th century. Amongst these mainly Latin texts are two in Latin and Occitan combined and two others which are written entirely in Occitan. These documents were, in all likelihood or at least in part, intended to involve the laity in the ceremonies and general worship that are mentioned in the text. These musical creations composed of six 'decasillabi’ tropes, along with other parts of the manuscripts, are the oldest examples of Occitan verse we have. Present in these Limousine manuscripts, which practically confirms the role of this region in the birth of lyric poetry, is the word 'trope', or rather 'tropare', the verb. This is the etymon of 'trobar', the Occitan verb meaning to "find" the rhyme during the composition of a poem. Thus giving the name to the musicians who would make this art form their own, the 'trobadors' or troubadours.


(Source - The manuscripts at the National Library of France.)


Medieval Love

Today, most experts agree that two poems hold the status of the first Occitan texts or rather first "work". Written around the year one thousand, the poems are, the Boece and The Song of Santa Fe of Agen. The Boeci text paraphrases Consolatio Philosophiae of Boethius, was probably composed in the first part of the eleventh century in the Limousin and is contained in an 11th century manuscript at the Abbey Saint-Martial of Limoges, which originally came from the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire.


Finally, towards the middle of the eleventh century, Occitan words and phrases appear in Latin charters and show that the vernacular is already used for legal documents at the highest levels of public life. As with troubadour poetry, linguistic modernization had arrived at the top of feudal society and was used in it's important feudal legal documents. In fifty years, this modernization will have been completed and the official language will have been changed. Concerning the poem about Boethius, Lafont wrote: "We are the source of a new literature and already masters of its form."


(Source - CIRDOC)

carte langues oil occitan

Map showing the distribution of the Occitan language.

bible saint martial Limoges
Anchor 2
bottom of page