As has been noted by a number of scholars, the reliquary-altar depicting the martyrdom of Saint Saturninus at the abbey church of Saint-Hilaire d’Aude – generally attributed to the enigmatic Master of the Tympanum of Cabestany – is a puzzling and potentially deceptive 12th-century work of art. Superficially it resembles a Late- Antique sarcophagus, carved in the Roman manner on three faces, though the size of the internal cavity makes it clear that it is in fact a reliquary-altar. Furthermore, the style of its carvings is deliberately archaic and designed to emulate Early Christian sculpture. In short, the intention seems to have been to create a sort of counterfeit that might persuade an onlooker to view the altar as a genuine reused Late Antique sarcophagus.

One can find similar instances of the imitation of Antiquity elsewhere in 12th-century Languedoc and Tuscany,in which the aim seems to have been to evoke a prestigious past. From a formal point of view, it has led scholars to propose a long and varied training for the Cabestany Master in Tuscany, Languedoc, and even Catalonia. However, certain iconographical details at Saint-Hilaire reveal something of the sources the artist used in carving the reliquary-altar and of the underlying intention behind its creation. This evidence points to a direct knowledge of Roman sculpture reused in 11th-and-12th-century Pisa, as Laura Bartolomé has pointed out. Furthermore, the Benedictine milieu of the abbey, the interests of the family of the Trencavel viscounts of Carcassonne and the emerging Albigensian conflict are the historical context for the making of this ‘sarcophagus’. It will be concluded that the reliquary-altar acts as a type of manifesto, distancing the community for whom it was made from heresy, in an attempt to reclaim the orthodoxy of the past and implicitly compare the troubling present to the age of St. Saturninus and St. Hilaire de Carcassonne.