Through Toulouse editorial office
The martyr of Saint-Saturnin remains one of the legendary episodes in the history of Toulouse. The name of the first bishop, modified under the Occitan name of Sernin in the Middle Ages, appears from the first half of the Ve century AD in the Passio sancti Saturnini (Passion of Saint Saturnin). “Many years ago, under the consulate of Decius and Gratus, as the memory preserves in a faithful account, the city of Toulouse had for the first time a high priest of Christ, Saint Saturnin”.
The cult of the martyr
This hagiographic story, written by a learned Toulouse cleric, is then used, as the historian Jean Cabau, member of the Archaeological Society of the South of France explains, “for the composition of the two offices constituting the liturgical basis of the cult of the martyr: the Mass for the day of Saint Saturnin, celebrated on November 29, and the Mass for the translation of the body of Saint Saturnin, started on the 1uh November “.
The small work, with great success, knows until the beginning of the XVIe century of many fabulous versions.
The refusal to comply with the edict of Decius
The speculations on the life of Saturnin are well underway. It would seem that he is from Africa, where his name is very common and which is more Christianized (in particular to what corresponds to present-day Tunisia) in this IIIe century while Gaul is still very largely pagan, as Jean-Marie Pailler, professor emeritus of ancient history and archeology at the University of Toulouse, author of the book “250, Saturnin, bishop, martyr and saint” in the collection “This year in Toulouse” edited by Didier Foucault, published by Midi-Pyrénées.
Mandatory imperial worship
At the end of the year 249, Dece, the new Roman emperor, promulgates an edict around his person and the gods of Rome, making imperial worship, until then optional, compulsory and universal. Refusing to comply with this order is considered treason and is therefore punishable by death. Saturnin, who was then the head of the small Christian community in Toulouse, used to make frequent trips back and forth from his home located near the current Pont-Neuf to the church located in the future Saint-Etienne district.
His skull shatters on the cobblestones
Halfway there is the Roman temple of the Capitol, under what is now Esquirol square. Not submitting to priests and the faithful who urge him to come and sacrifice with them a bull that they are about to slaughter for the honor and appeasement of their gods, they attach it to the animal, as can be seen in the famous canvas “Le martyr de Saint-Saturnin” painted in 1835 by Jean-Louis Bézard. Dragged by the latter, his skull breaks on the cobblestones until the rope is broken at the level of the road of Cahors (current street of Taur).
At the origin of the Saint-Sernin basilica
In the middle of IVe century, Bishop Hilaire had a first brick vault built, then an oratory at the place of the burial. His successor Sylve had a paleo-Christian church erected which would become from the XIe century Saint-Sernin basilica.
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