Louis the Pious (814-840)
Second Issue - after 818-9

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 A Visitor's Guide to Carolingian France
V: Aquitaine, Perigord and Neighbors

Home page (and contact info)   Carolingian coins   Visitor's Guide Home Page (7.2)

Astier: Eglise St. Martin

The church is 9th to 12th century. The 9th century part is the octagonal tower at one end. The design was inspired by Charlemagne's church in Aachen. The church stands along outside the village and the key is available at a neighboring farm. The loggia structure is of uncertain purpose. One suggestion is that it was defensive, another was that it was able to hold a fire to light a pilgrim route. There are three windows in the church and they may have been tied to the solstice. The tower is not integrated into the later construction and the on site guide says this is unique in France. The nave is 12th century and of poorer quality stone, whereas the the 9th century ceiling is a stone cupola. The church has nice acoustics.



The interior has been renovated in a way that does not preserve the original feel of the church. Astier is about 25 - 30 miles NNW of Bergerac. Don't confuse it with St. Astier.



The church of St. Gervais et St. Protais in Civaux has a rounded 4th C apse and interior 10th C vaulting, subsequently covered. The tower dates from the 12th C. The most interesting feature is not so much the church as the necropolis right outside the church, with tombs going back to the 2nd C. This next photo is of the area to the left of the car pictured behind the church. The sarcophagus with the sign is Merovingian.
In fact, the great interest of Civaux is its Merovingian necropolis, located several blocks from the church. The original necropolis covered 7 acres and had over 15,000 graves. Today the area is much smaller, with a fence made of sarcophagi lids surrounding the cemetery. The picture to the left includs the ruins of an old, but post Carolingian chapel. The cemetery includes contemporary graves and is open to visitors. It is fascinating.
Civaux is about 20 Km SE of Poitiers. It is right next to a nuclear generating facility, making for an interesting juxtaposition between the very old and very modern.


The church is described in the regional Michelin Green Guide as 'pre-Romanesque' but on site it is described as 12th century. The reconciliation is that while the church is largely 12th century, it was built to incorporate an earlier pre-Romanesque chapel. The church is unusual in that it has a double apse. I think the left apse is the earlier one (based on architectural detail - see the arch for example). The church is on a hill of a small medieval village with a lot of charm. There is a restaurant with garden at the base of the hill, next to the river. Creysse is located east of Les Eyzies.



The church goes back to the 9th C. for the walls of the nave. It is particularly known for the bases of the pillars of the nave. The interior picture above shows the partial pillars and the pictures below show the decorative pillar bases. This church also suffered from "une restoration trop radicale" at the end of the 19th C.  (Cote  de Atlantique 82, 10th edition)

Fenioux is a very small community, actually a hamlet, N of Bordeaux, N of Saintes, 8 km S of St. Jean d'Angely. It is just E of the A10.

Ligue and the abbey of St. Martin

The abbey of St. Martin is both promising but frustrating. This is largely a pre Carolingian site. The crypt above right dates from the 7th C, as do the floor tiles to the left. Unfortunately, these were not available to visit in the fall 2005. The crypt is apparently dangerous and undergoing renovation, with an open date in 2006. There was not much to see. Outside one of the current buildings is a foundation of the early church.

The abbey has an interesting history. Martin, who became the famous St. Martin of Tours, was stationed here in the 4th C. He ultimately became bishops of Tours and died at Candes, at the confluence of the Vienne and the Loire, in 397. Shortly after his death a monument was built to him at Ligue. At the end of the 7th C. a church was built in memory of St. Martin, the site having become a pilgrimage destination. This was also a monastery.

However, the monastery drops out of the historical record during the Carolingian age, from 700 until about 1000. It was not included in Louis the Pious' list of monasteries of 817. Its history is uncertain, although I have seen suggestions that it was destroyed by the Saracen invasion of 732, led by Abd. er Rahman, before he was subsequently defeated by Charles Martel at Moussais north of Poitiers.

The monastery was resurrected during the reign of Hugh Capet by Aumode, wife of William the Great, comte de Poitou. This is a working abbey today, with a very modern (20th C) church. Today the abbey is known for it enamel art.

The abbey is 8 km S of Poitiers on small roads. It is between the N10 and D741.


Eudes (887-898)

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AR denier, 22mm, 1.72gr. Obv: +GRATIA D-I REX, central monogram. Rev: +LIMOVICAS CIVIS, central cross, reversed 'S' in CIVIS. Limoges mint in Aquitaine. R1697; MG 1332; Dep 14 B1, 511 (1122 examples); MEC 974; not in Bel; Nouchy E24.
The drawing to the left is of the church of St. Martial, as it looked in the middle ages. It is necessary to rely on a drawing since today there is no above ground remnant of the church. The crypt, however, has survived, and is currently under the Place de la Republique in the heart of Limoges. The crypt was rediscovered, with the remains of St. Martial and Ste. Valerie, when the site was excavated to build an underground parking garage in the 1970s. It is entered by a very unpresupposing staircase on one side of the Place.

St. Martial was a contemporary of Gregory of Tours and they traveled together in the 3rd C. By the 6th C. he was buried in Limoges and this became a pilgrimage site. There ultimately came to be built three adjacent churches in the vicinity, with the initial basilica St. Pierre du Sepulcre dating from the 6th C. This is evident in the foundation imprints seen below. To the left, under the text, is the church of St. Martial. To the right are the foundations of the churches of St. Benoit and St. Pierre. If I follow this correctly, St. Pierre came to be built over the original burial site of St. Martial. All are visitable today.

In 848 Charles the Bald granted permission to the abbots here to follow the rule of St. Benoit. Charles' son (Charles the Infant) was crowned king of  Aquitaine here in 855. The church burnt in the mid 10th C and was rebuilt in 952. The relics of St. Martial were moved at the end of the 10th century, and returned after people came to believe that a series of disasters in the region were caused by an angry St. Martial. The picture on the left below shows the tomb of St. Martial that dates from this period. The mosaics are distinctive. The picture to the right is a probable 12th C tomb in the St. Beniot/St. Pierre part of the crypt.

In the 11th C the abbey came under Cluniac rule and at the end of the century the church was rebuilt again, after another fire. Jumping ahead, Richard the Lion Hearted was declared duc of Aquitaine at St. Martial. The abbey flourished in the 12th C. but declined after the 100 Years War. It became a secular building in the 16th C. and  was finally sold to a demolition firm in 1791. All signs of the abbey were gone by 1806 and the crypts were forgotten.


Limoges is about 400 km S of Paris on the A20.

 Melle and Its Carolingian Mines

Pippin II (840-52)

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AR denier, 21mm, 1.61gr. Obv: +PIPINVS REX EQ, central cross in solid circle. Rev: +METVLLO, central Pippin monogram P-IN-S-R. Mint is Melle. R1872, MG 606 as Pippin I or II; Dep 9F1, 615 (33 examples), "les tres grande majorite des monnaies de Pippin II fut frappe entre 845-848 ... Melle fut un atelier tres important." This coin is conservative in design, following Charlemagne's lead with the ruler's name on the obverse and a personal monogram on the reverse. MEC 814. Prou 689.

Melle is the site of the silver mines that were the metal source for many Carolingian coins. It is possible to visit the galleries and see demonstrations of early minting techniques. Melle was a wonderfully prolific mint during the Carolingian era, and equally problematic in the attribution of much of its output. For example, it is very difficult to separate the Melle coins of Charles the Bald and Charlemagne, to the chagrin of many collectors. You can visit the mines of Melle web site. This image of medieval coin making is from the mine web site.

Today you enter the mines by newer shafts that have been cut into the cliff face. In Carolingian times, the mines were accessed via vertical shafts. These older shafts still exist. In winter pictures with snow on the ground, you can see the shaft locations because the warmer air from the mines melts the snow around the shafts. The mines themselves are hollowed out by the mining operation. The mining process started by building a fire against the mine wall and letting it burn for several days. The heat fractured the rock, which was then chiseled out with picks. The rock was then washed and crushed. The ore of interest included silver embedded in lead. This heavier ore separated from other mining output in the washing due to its differential weight. It was then further treated to separate the silver from the lead. The top photo shows the modern entrances to the mines. The next shows some of the mine's
This photo, from a museum publication, shows what current archeologists think would be the size of a typical fire. This approach naturally came to put a stress on local wood resources.
The mines themselves are very old. They were started back in the 5th century as a source of galena, an ore that combines lead and silver. The Merovingians used the mines primarily for their lead. Melle was taxed and paid in lead, which ended up on the roof of the abbey of St. Denis in Paris. Melle was taxed 8000 lbs of lead every two years. The mines are extensive. The map shows a hard to read scale of 5 meters. The exterior photo above is the lower part of the map, what looks like a bay facing left. The mines ran their course during the Carolingian era and were essentially abandoned in the 9th C. The Melle mint mark moved to Poitiers and silver came from another source. Visitors have the opportunity to take hammer to a lead planchet and strike their own denier. This gives a clearer insight as to how there came to be weak and off centered strikes. This is a 'must see' visit for numismatists with a Carolingian interest.

Melle is about 55 km SSE of Poitiers on the D950. If you found St. Jean d'Angely, it is to the NW also on the D950.

  Abbey de Nouaillé-Maupertuis

The abbey is in an attractive valley. The site has a twofold interest. It played a role in the Battle of  Poitiers in the Hundred Years War, known locally as the Battle of Nouaillé. Secondly, and for our purpose, the church has a 9th C tomb of  St. Junien. This was a pilgrimage site. I think while this is a 9th C shrine, the body is elsewhere, perhaps in the church of St. Junien in a town by the same name. This church dates from the 11th to 15th centuries. The interior vaulting is 12th C. The shrine is behind the altar.
The abbey is about 7 miles southeast of Poitiers.

Poitiers: Baptistery of St. Jean



The Baptistery of St. Jean dates from the 4th C. The building has undergone modification over time. The schematic above, on the left, is the original design. The original baptistery still exists, making this one of, if not the oldest, religious buildings in France. The narthex dates from the 10th C.  The top photo is of the back of the building. The semi-circular shape chapel is a 19th C renovation. The photo to the right of the interior shows the entrance and is consistent with the right image on the schematic. The interior of the Baptistery is interesting in terms of the detail of the carving on the capitals, and the actual baptistery font. There is a Merovingian museum with ancient  sarcophagi, including an unusual his and hers example. Poitiers is 355 km generally S of Paris on the A10.

Figeac: Hotel de la Monnaies has (I think) a collection of ancient, including Carolingian coins. (Perigord 106, 13th edition, undated). Figeac looks like an attractive medieval city. This image is the restored Hotel de la Monnaies. The city web site is Figeac. Figeac is in the Dordogne which is an attractive area to visit regardless of the tenuous Carolingian connection. There are a number of Cro Magnan caves in the area. It is SE of Rocomadour, the medieval pilgrimage city. It is ENE of Cahors (which itself is E of Bordeaux). Figeac is about 575 km from Paris.



Belcastel is one of the Beautiful Villages in France. It is located on the Aveyron River. The castle is perched above the village. The first construction on the hill were chapels in the 9th and 10th centuries. By the 11th century the territory had come under the control of the counts of Rouergue who started fortifying the site. The first mention of a fortification is in 1040. This fortification was built over the initial Carolingian chapels. The chateau was continually built on over the centuries, but the foundation chapels remained. They were variously used as for dungeons or storage, and over the centuries became filled in with dirt and rubble. In 1974 Fernand Pouillon bought the ruined chateau and undertook a major restoration, resulting in the buildings we see today. As part of the restoration, he excavated the Carolingian chapels.

The picture top right shows the approach to the chapels. It a fairly steep downhill grade, and the chapels are off to the left. The second set of pictures shows these Carolingian era vaults, now a part of the castle's foundations. The last picture is a remnant of a fresco found on the wall of the lower vault.

Belcastel is worth the visit. There is an attractive hotel and (in 2009) a Michelin star restaurant here. There are also rooms available in the castle.