June 30, 2018

Saint Martial, Bishop of Limoges

St Martial of Limoges (Feast Day - June 30)

Saint Gregory of Tours names Saint Martial, who founded the Church of Limoges in France, as one of the seven bishops sent from Rome by Pope Fabian to Gaul with Saint Denis of Paris in the middle of the third century. At Limoges he overturned pagan worship and superstitions and filled the city with faith in the true God. He further writes in his History of the Franks: "Martial lived in the greatest sanctity, winning people to the Church and spreading the faith of Christ among all, and died in peace, confessing the faith."

According to a local tradition, Saint Martial erected on the site of the present cathedral a shrine in honor of Saint Stephen. A pagan priest, Aurelian, wished to throw Bishop Martial into prison, but was struck dead, then brought to life, baptized, ordained and later consecrated bishop by the Saint. Aurelian is today the patron of the guild of butchers in Limoges. After laboring for twenty-eight years as a missionary in Gaul, the Saint died at the age of fifty-nine, surrounded by his converts of Poitou, Berry, Auvergne and Aquitaine. Saint Martial is called "the Apostle of the Gauls" or "the Apostle of Aquitaine".

Martial died in Limoges and was buried outside the Roman town. Gregory of Tours informs us in his Glory of the Confessors that there were two priests who accompanied Martial from Rome to Gaul, and when they died they were buried in adjacent sarcophagi in the same crypt as the Saint. One sarcophagus was near the wall and the other was in front of it, preventing the one against the wall from being properly honored, not allowing it to be covered with a shroud or lighting a lamp for it. The people were annoyed by this, so one day when they came to the crypt they found the sarcophagi on opposite walls, allowing free access to them, which was believed to be a miracle of Saint Martial who listened to the complaint of the people.

Many other miracles took place at his tomb. For example, Gregory of Tours writes that a girl whose one hand was stiffened with her fingers stuck to her palms came to the tomb of the Saint on the day of his feast. While she prayed to the Saint she noticed that now she was able to move her fingers, and all who were there marveled at this.

As his tomb became progressively more important as a pilgrimage site and place of healing, the monks found patronage in the Benedictine order in the ninth century. The site became the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Martial, a great library (second only to the library at Cluny) and scriptorium. The twelfth century chronicler Geoffroy du Breuil of Vigeois worked in its library.

The Abbey of Saint-Martial, one of the great pilgrimage churches of western Christianity, was so thoroughly razed in the nineteenth century, that only the scattered manuscripts of its library remain. Some of said manuscripts 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.

His help was invoked during an epidemic of wide-spread ergot poisoning in Limoges in 994. Martial was particularly honored in Bordeaux, where his pastoral staff was kept in the Basilica Saint-Seurin and used in processions to invoke his aid during outbreaks of pestilence. He is also venerated in Italy, where Colle di Val d'Elsa Cathedral is dedicated to him.

After the sixth century forgeries and legends began to arise about Saint Martial, among which moved him back in time to being either one of the original Seventy Apostles of Christ or a disciple of the Apostle Peter who was sent to Gaul as a missionary, but after a Synod was held in Limoges in 1023 to discuss the proper designation of the Saint, it was decided that based on the testimony of Gregory of Tours he indeed founded the Church of Limoges in the middle of the third century, and for this he should be addressed as an "Apostle".