Basilica of Saint-Martin in Tours visitor guide

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The Basilica of Saint-Martin is an important church in the location where Saint-Martin was buried, in the centre of Tours in the Indre-et-Loire department. You will visit the town as you explore the Loire Valley.

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France This Way review: although it is not the principal religious monument in Tours, the basilica of Saint-Martin is an imposing church in the town centre with an interesting history (several relics of the earlier basilica on the site can also be seen), and merits a visit as you explore the historic centre of the town.

View along the nave in the basilica of Saint-Martin in Tours

A church has stood in this approximate location since the 5th century, after Saint-Martin of Tours died in 397 AD and a small oratory was built over his burial site in 437 AD. By the end of the 5th century a basilica had been built and in the following centuries this was further enlarged.

At the beginning of the 9th century the basilica was classified as a collegiale church, and approximately 200 monks were based here.

Rebuilt and expanded in the 11th century, and further expanded in the 13th century, the basilica became one of the largest churches in the Christian world. Several chapels and a double ambulatory behind the altar were part of this imposing structure.

The church was looted in the 16th century and became a stable after the French revolution. By the end of the 18th century the basilica was in a very poor condition after the vaults had collapsed and it was demolished as part of a plan to improve traffic flow through the centre of Tours.

The Tour de l'Horloge, the Tour Charlemagne and one side of the cloister are all that remain of this original structure.


The Rue des Halles (the road in front of the current basilica) was constructed approximately in the position of the east-west axis of the original basilica, and Rue Descartes (the road to the side of the current basilica) is in the position of the south transept of the original basilica.

Light coloured paving stones can be seen in Rue des Halles that mark the position of the columns in the nave in the original basilica.

The current basilica was built at the end of the 19th century in the neo-byzantine style after the tomb of Saint-Martin had been re-discovered in 1860, underneath a house. The building of the church followed long arguments - some believed the new basilica should be rebuilt in the same location and with the same dimensions as the original, with the Rue des Halles being closed and built on.

This plan was ultimately rejected and the basilica we see today is much smaller than the original.

Floorplan of the original basilica of Saint-Martin

The photo above shows the layout and size of the original basilica of Saint-Martin - I have outlined the area in red to make it more visible. This also helps to understand where the Tour de l'Horloge and the Tour Charlemagne were in the original church.

The current basilica of Saint-Martin is oriented north-south instead of the original east-west (which is much more common in churches) because of the constraints of the land available.

There is a large bronze statue of Saint-Martin blessing the town from the top of the dome, recently restored, and an engraving on the facade that celebrates the town having Saint-Martin as patron.

The church is typical of neo-byzantine churches from this period. The interior of the basilica has a main nave, separated from two side naves by rows of columns in polished granite, and a large painted dome above the transept with a row of windows to allow light to enter the structure.

Inside the crypt of the basilica you can see a replica of the tomb of Saint-Martin, although most of his relics are no longer in the church.

Dome in the basilica of Saint-Martin

There is no charge to enter the basilica of Saint-Martin when you visit Tours.

Attractions nearby

The principal historic religious monument in the town is the Tours Cathedral with the La Psalette Cloisters. For other highlights see the Tours city guide.

See more churches in France. You can find more travel ideas in the Indre-et-Loire guide and the Loire Valley guide.

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Photos of Basilica of Saint-Martin in Tours

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The French version of this page is at Basilica of Saint-Martin in Tours (Francais)