Saints of the Day – Saturninus of Toulouse

Saint Saturninus of ToulouseArticle

(also known as Saturnin, Sernin)

Born in Rome; died c.257. Saint Sernin forms a link between Gaul and Judea, and between our civilization and Jesus Christ himself. According to legend, Sernin was Greek and lived during the time of Jesus. He heard of John the Baptist, went to hear him, and was so deeply moved that he stayed to become one of his disciples. He was baptized in the Jordan on the same day as Jesus, whom he thereafter followed, even becoming one of the 72 disciples. He remained with the Apostles after the Crucifixion, and was with them in the cenacle when the Holy Spirit appeared to them. He went with Peter to evangelize the Middle East, and then went with him to Rome. From there he was sent to Gaul, and after stopping in Arles and Nîmes he settled in Toulouse with his two companions, Papoul whom Peter had sent with him, and Honestus whom he had converted on the way.

Yes, this is a legend trying to connect the foundation of the church of Toulouse back to the origins of Christianity. But like all legends they point to even more miraculous truths. It is a miracle that the message of Jesus Christ spread far and wide to all corners of the earth – to all nations, races, and peoples – pure, authentic, and unchanged.

You know how difficult it is for a group of people to agree upon anything, yet the Gospel remains the Gospel. You’d probably think of the founders of the group as having a good idea that is now out- of-date. But the work of Sernin first in Pamplona, Navarre, Spain, then in Toulouse, France, of others in Munich, in Armenia, in China, and in Africa has endured right down to the present. They belonged to different races, but they all preached the same religion – the same Jesus Christ, the same Saint Peter, the same John the Baptist.

They were often isolated, lost, or forgotten, and yet, centuries later, there is still no need to rectify their teaching. And if that isn’t a direct connection with Jesus Christ, then what is? Take comfort in the fact that the more historians try to undermine the miracle, the greater it becomes.

About 245 Saint Sernin was sent by Pope Fabian from Rome to preach the Gospel in Pamplona. From there he travelled to France, where Bishop Trophimus of Arles needed missionaries. Sernin was consecrated bishop of Toulouse.

When Sernin arrived in Toulouse he began by destroying the pagan idols, which caused a stir but was still only negative work. People were suspicious and something else was needed. Then one day Sernin cured the leprosy of Austris of Saxony, the daughter of Marcellus, the governor of Toulouse, and immediately afterwards half the town was converted.

You don’t believe in miracles? Then how do you explain that one fine morning half the town awoke and found themselves Christians? Take away Sernin, take away the miracle, and you’re left with an even bigger miracle, and one which is even harder to explain.

With Austris cured and Toulouse converted, Sernin didn’t want to be bishop, so he set off to make new conquests. He stayed for a while at Auch and sent his disciples Honestus to Pamplona, where he later joined him and together they pushed on as far as Toledo. After converting both these towns, he returned to Toulouse, which he found in good condition. And this is another miracle: the evangelists went away for years and yet when they returned it was as if they had never been absent.

Sernin’s work wasn’t finished, for no work ever is, but he had done the essential part of it. Now all that remained for him was to die, and to die in the tradition of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and Saint Peter.

He lived in Toulouse not far from the capitol, which was a pagan temple. He drove the demons out of the capitol – we don’t know how, but we do know that the pagans felt that their temple was empty. One source says that to show his contempt for the pagan gods, Sernin took a house on one side of the pagan temple and built a small church on the other side. This is said to have silenced completely the pagan oracles, from which the pagan priests drew their principal income.

These pagan priests, assuming that Sernin’s behavior had displeased their gods, one day seized Sernin, hauled him into their temple, and they tried to force him to sacrifice a bullock to their gods.

They had to act quickly, for crowds are easily moved one way or another, and so they began to beat and scourge him. No one intervened. God didn’t come to protect him, so they went further. They tied him by the feet to an already excited bull that was waiting to be sacrificed. Sernin was dragged behind the bull and trampled until his body was dashed to pieces, his head smashed and his brains spilled out on the ground. And so Sernin was sacrificed instead of the bull.

Sernin probably didn’t know Jesus and Saint Peter in the flesh, but Jesus triumphed when he died forgiving his executioners. At the very moment when the others believed that they had won, the real victory went to Jesus. It was not a negative forgiveness, but one which gave life.

Sernin also forgave his executioners. If his pardon came only from himself it would not have been worth much, but coming also from Jesus Christ it was effective. The connection between Sernin and Jesus Christ was direct, and that is the real miracle.

Today the church of Saint Sernin in Toulouse is the largest Romanesque church in France, and the saint’s body lies in the choir, in a great tomb constructed in 1746 and resting on bulls of bronze (Attwater 2, Benedictines, Bentley, Coulson, Encyclopedia).

Saint Sernin is usually portrayed as a bishop dragged by a bull or with a bull at his feet (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 August 2020. Web. 6 December 2020. <>