The Collegiate Church of Saint Martin, Brive-la-Gaillarde, Dordogne

The collegiate church of Saint Martin dominates the centre of the Dordogne market town of Brive-la-Gaillarde. The church was built on the site of the tomb of St Martin the Spaniard who was martyred in the town early in the fifth century AD, and the first building is mentioned by Gregory of Tours. In the sixth century it was rebuilt after a fire. Excavations in 1986 – 88 uncovered a small cemetery chapel and some Merovingian sarcophaguses which can now be viewed in the crypt.

Enlarged, the church was managed at the end of the eleventh century by a college of canons who adopt the rule of Saint Augustine. The statutes and property of the priory were confirmed by Pope Eugene III, then by Pope Innocent III and, in 1231, by Pope Gregory IX. The canons abandoned the communal life in 1574 but they provided divine service until the second half of the eighteenth century. However, financial difficulties led them to unite with the priory of Port-Dieu in 1746.

The church is bare of graffiti, but contains an impressive array of masons’ marks on the pillars. Twelve distinct types of mark can be seen, and these have been grouped together by type below. The orientation of many of the marks makes it clear that they were made before the stones were set in place.

The majority of the marks fall into distinct groupings, but there are some of which only one example could be seen, and these are grouped below in a miscellaneous category. As many of the marks were well above head height it is likely that other examples of these exist in the church.

The church is usually open during daylight hours. There is plenty of reasonably priced parking in Brive nearby, especially the underground car park of Thiers which, in very civilised French fashion does not charge for parking between 12 noon and 2pm, and only charges 1 euro to park on Saturdays. The church is surrounded by excellent cafes.

Report by Linda Wilson

Place Charles de Gaulle,
19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde

Search terms: Dordogne, France, mason’s mark, A, I, P, pentagram, P, R, S, Z.