What is the lipsanotheque, this incredible and secret place in Limoges?

What is the lipsanotheque, this incredible and secret place in Limoges?
What is the lipsanotheque, this incredible and secret place in Limoges?

The Lipsanotheque, a sort of library dedicated to bones and religious relics, is located near the Bishop’s Palace. Bénédicte Sardin, exclusively opened the doors of this incredible and secret place to us.

The piece is simple in appearance. Varnished parquet floors and old furniture suggest that in this place, on the shelves, the great names of classical literature meet.

Except that there, classified in boxes, or hunts gilded with fine gold, dating back several centuries, the relics of John the Baptist, Martial, Valérie and other saints, not necessarily Limousins. Responsible for the diocesan sacred art commission, Bénédicte Sardin has been, for several months, the new Lipsanothecarian of the diocese. She succeeds Matthias Martin who, until then, occupied this very special position little known to the general public. Lipsa comes from Greek and means, worship of relics.

Inventory religious heritage

Trained in art history, Bénédicte Sardin, who previously worked in the municipal archives, is responsible for inventorying everything linked to movable and religious heritage in connection with the practice of worship. In this Lipsanotheque there are of course caskets and boxes containing relics.

They fall into two categories. There are those to be presented that can be shown. These are not yet open to devotion. These relics, bones for the most part, come from different churches and different congregations that have ceased their activity.

“Some bones are recognized, others are not completely recognized. It is the bishop who has authority over everything relating to the authentication of relics,” she explains.

Ancient capsules

At the Lipsanothèque only recognized relics are kept. They are placed in shrines, around forty in total, in display cases or in capsulae, or capsules, some of which are very old.

The size of a pillbox, these contain tiny but recognized holy relics. The Lipsanotèque has several dozen, including one linked to John the Baptist, one of the stars of the calendar. All, of course, bear the bishop’s seal.

“We also keep the altar stones. We have around fifty. There is a box on each of the altars intended to receive the relics” testifies Bénédicte Sardin. This tradition is old. At one time, bodies were not transported.

As a result, basilicas or churches were built, like Saint Peter’s in Rome, around the tomb. The altar was erected over the grave. A way of making the link between the passion of Christ and the martyrdom of the saint.

Inventory work

Often called upon, Bénédicte Sardin is responsible for ensuring that procedures are respected. Last August, for example, the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs requested the opening of a reliquary in Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche.

After obtaining authorization from the bishop, she supervised the operations. At the end, a report of everything that was done and observed was drawn up and marked, again, with the seal of the bishop.

There are few lipsanotheques. That of Limoges is one of the largest and most requested. Bénédicte Sardin doesn’t say it, but she has work and no longer knows which way to turn.

Jean-François Julien



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