After getting back so late yesterday, we rested this morning then headed to Limoux after lunch. Limoux is famous for the production of sparkling white wine. It has a marvelous church named in honor of St. Martin, a Roman soldier that converted to Christianity during the reign of the Emperor Constantine and was later martyred. The church has the grandeur of a cathedral and in fact was one briefly when an archbishop used it as his base for a time. I found information on the web that the church was in existence before 982 CE. The church was originally built in the Romanesque style with one nave and two aisles but in 1206 the Church was given to the Dominicans in Prouille and they made the building much larger and remodeled it into the Gothic style. It's magnificent organ was originally built in 1553 CE then altered in the 18th century.
The high altar is constructed with a beautiful red marble that has been quarried in the region since Roman times. I also noticed that like many churches in France one of its five side chapels is dedicated to Joan of Arc.
After we left St. Martin's we drove to the nearby village of St. Hilaire to explore its abbey. The abbey is first mentioned in writing in 825 CE. The monks in the abbey of St. Hilaire are the ones that actually discovered the original technique to produce sparkling wine in 1531 CE.
Monks no longer live in the abbey but the caretakers were exceptionally friendly as they showed us the beautiful cloister added to the abbey in the 14th century. The east gallery of the abbey also features intricate paintings on the ceiling and rafters of the apartment there.
The caretakers also invited us to photograph the lovely chapel that now serves as the village church. The altar is sculpted marble from the 12th century and depicts the life and martyrdom of St. Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse in the 3rd century CE. St. Sernin was tied to a bull then the bull was goaded into a frenzy. When I first saw it I thought it was a converted Roman sarcophagus as it looks very similar to those I have seen from the third century but it is too small for an adult human body. The curator speculates in the brochure that it must have been produced as an altar. There are several other explanations, though. After the martyrdom described, I doubt if St. Sernin's body was intact so what was left could have fit in the sarcophagus. The other possibility is that St. Sernin, like many Romans, could have been cremated because of the destruction of his body. His remains were kept in some other container then later placed in the sarcophagus after it's completion in the 12th century. These are my speculations, though, not theirs.
The sarcophagus was carved by a sculptor known only as the Master of Cebestany. This artist is thought to have produced other works in Spain, Italy and at other sites in France. His style includes triangular faces, low foreheads, high ears, hands with long fingers and very detailed clothing.
The abbey has a tumultuous history. It had much of its lands confiscated by the Cathars and was ransacked by the heretics during the Albigensian Crusade in the 12th century and the monks had to defend the abbey again from the ravages of the 100 Years War. The surrounding village was burned by Protestant forces in 1574 CE. So it is almost a miracle in itself that much of the structure still remains standing. Ongoing restoration has revealed additional paintings covered over by whitewash in subsequent years. It will be fascinating to see what is revealed when the restorations are completed.