The abbey was razed at the beginning of the 19th century. The only remaining part is the 10th century crypt, which was rediscovered in 1960, and which contains the tomb of Saint Martial, the first bishop of Limoges, and that of St Valerie of Limoges, another, possibly legendary, early martyr.
The abbey reached the peak of its importance in the century following its take-over by Cluny Abbey in 1065, when it was famed for its literature and music. However, the shrine was stolen by Henry II of England, who was also the Duke of Aquitaine. Turmoil in the land was interpreted as the saint's response to the disturbance of his bones. The body was reburied and an altar placed above it.
The disturbances of the 12th century were followed by a period of rebuilding and a century of renewed prosperity. However, they had been only a foretaste of the destruction and disruption of the Hundred Years' War. The Limousin was not spared in the dynastic and religious conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries. The abbey went through a protracted decline and it never recovered the greatness of its heyday.
There was considerable rebuilding and repair in the early 18th century. However, in 1791, during the French Revolution, the abbey community was dissolved, and in the following year the sacking and demolition of the building began. By 1807 this was complete. The area was levelled and turned into a new public space, the Place de la République. Portions of the relics of the martyrs, allegedly saved by faithful Catholic citizens of Limoges, were rehoused in the nearby church of St Michel des Lions. The twin Castle and Cathedral cities were at last unified into a single municipality under secular governance.
Excavations were carried out from 1960, on the initiative of the city council, in the hope of uncovering the remains of the abbey and the shrine of St Martial. By 1962, the crypt containing the tombs of the Saints Martial and Valerie had been rediscovered. Excavations were then pushed further to the east, revealing more church buildings belonging to the abbey. From 1966, the crypt and surrounding area was consolidated and opened to the public, the whole being covered with a large concrete slab. Today, it is entered down a flight of steps from the Place de la République above. Admission is free.
It is a famous site for 12th century sacred and secular church music. Some of the earliest troubadour lyrics with their accompanying melodies were in extant in manuscripts at St. Martial. They are now preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale.