Church of Mortemart


The etymology (in search of the origin and history) of the name “Mortemart” is not mysterious.
Mortemart was first written as Mortamart in the 13th century: it is therefore a typical local toponym, because the name of the places was mainly a caricature of their characteristics. In this case a “swamp”, “still waters”: with redundancy, since “morta” means “that does not move”.
In the 13th century the name was Romano-Occitanised, and in the 15th century it was Latinised: “Mortuo Mari”. Since then, it is the francization which has been in use.


We know that the Périgord has been populated by extremely hard-working people (Gallic tribes) and that travelling ideas, external influences and different inspirations have always been integrated into the ingenious character of the Périgord people. We can put forward the hypothesis that, since prehistorical times, communication routes such as rivers, valleys and plateaus have naturally seen the settlement of Man in the most frequented places. From the Iron Age (800 BC.) onwards, trade and the exchange of ideas multiplied, also by sea and over land. The region was a field of communication allowing people coming down from the Saône, Rhône and northern Italian valleys to reach the Aquitaine coast after crossing the Auvergne mountains.

The site of Mortemart, on the edge of the Barade forest, is in a valley surrounded by hills, halfway between Bergerac and Brive. It is on the natural route of the road linking Périgueux to Le Bugue.

Historical background

The road that runs northwards along the municipality of MORTEMART is said to be Roman, although no graphic document can perfectly attest to this, but geographically the previous observation suggests a pre-Roman origin of this place of passage. It is certain that the typographical situation of MORTEMART is at the origin of its name; the Roman road from “Vésone to Cohors” (Périgueux – Atur – Marsaneix – La Veyssière – Mortemart – La Robertie – Le Bugue), attested by the map of PEUTINGER and the itinerary of ANTONIN, passed through “la FAURIE”.

In the 12th century, parish church building sites were in full swing in the surrounding villages: This was indeed the period of the structuring of feudal society, with the construction of the “temple” more widely open to the population of the Middle Ages, around and/or adjacent to the castle and other administrative and religious buildings.

The troubled times and the turbulent insecurity of previous centuries saw the flourishing of an architecture of fortified bell towers, useful for military defence and perfect symbols of the power of the Master of the place.

The CHŒUR is of Romanesque period with its square plan, with projecting stone ribs, supported by capitals and 4 corner columns of very beautiful workmanship from the 12th century.

The South wall of the nave shows us the posteriority of the central nave by its external structure of the span in a slight third point. (late 12th – early 13th century).

 A little later, this church was allocated to ecclesiastics belonging to the Order of the KNIGHTS of SAINT JEAN de JERUSALEM, to found a community there from the 14th century (1320). It was then that the Holy Patron of the sanctuary was Saint John the Baptist (24th June). This order was very well represented in the archpriest of Sarlat and Le Bugue.

We find the house of De Bonal, notably Pierre de Bonal, bishop of Sarlat from 1446 to 1461. The two dates engraved on the corner stones, still visible (1432), certainly mark an important event which must have taken place in the church.

The 16th century saw religious conflicts at their height with the pursuit of two mercenaries from the two armies in conflict: Duras (for the Huguenots) and Montluc (for the Catholics). From 1562 – 1575, the two armies went round in circles on the Périgord, trampling and pounding everything in their path. In 1563, Duras, victorious at Montauban, went up to the Périgord pursued by Montluc, he camped on October 10th 1563 at Vergt, leaving his cavalry at Cendrieux. Montluc, coming from Veyrines de Vergt, attacked by surprise and the Huguenots left 1800 to 2000 dead.

1570 to 1580 is a period of re-foundation, is the Church reshaped as we know it today?

From 1582 to 1594, violent peasant revolts took place in the diocese. In 1594, a gathering of revolutionary troops in the forest of Abzac (above Limeuil) stirred the country … A notebook of grievances was filled under Henri IV, but the peasant revolt rebounded in 1637.

March 10, 1776 is the official date of abolition of burial rights in the churches. It is certain that until the Revolution, long afterwards, this practice was still tolerated (giving) a right of ownership, in return for a fee.

The French Revolution (1789) was devastating for the architectural heritage: noble residences, castles and sometimes churches suffered, depending on the degree of local resentment.
Mortemart does not seem to have suffered too much from it (no trace of destruction or fire, no pinkish discolouration on the stones).

In the 1850s, the church of Mortemart must have been in a poor state of maintenance, certainly it has survived the post-revolutionary period without a Cure. Apparently, the town council of the time had some work done to reinforce the church.

The procedure for inscription on the supplementary inventory of Historic Monuments was completed on November 9, 1984, for the following description:
“The facades and roofs of the church and presbytery of Mortemart.”

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