While you might think this is just another church in Europe, it’s slightly different. This church was considered a major stopping place in a notable pilgrimage through France to Spain. The architecture and history of the basilica can be understood within the framework of two religious realities: pilgrimages and the cult of relics. Hence, the Basilica of St Sernin is one of the type of churches known as a ‘pilgrimage church’.
Medieval faith entailed a strong awareness of the reality of sin. Pilgrimages and veneration surrounding the relics was seen as a means of atonement. Relics were big business and trading & selling of relics was done amongst churches and principalities.
It was built in honor of martyr Saint Saturnin who was the first bishop of Toulouse living in the first half of the 3rd century. A modest basilica was built in the 5th century. Due to his exceptional popularity, the Toulouse martyr contributed to an influx of pilgrims. The building needed to be expanded. This doorway is the only thing that remains from the early building.
We entered the basilica through the doorway in the background of the above photo. The relief above that doorway celebrates the ascension of Christ in the midst of angels.
The nave or central body of the basilica is impressive and grand.
This next shot is a closer view of the tomb.
The area surrounding his tomb was adorned with baroque decor during the 18th century designed to glorify the saint.
Behind this area are five chapels that holds a collection of retables or structure, cabinets and reliquaries in painted and gilded wood. Also called “Tour of The Holy Bodies”. It presents some of the basilica’s numerous precious relics for veneration by the faithful. Relics can be the physical remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing or some object associated with them.
Underneath this all was the crypt which was open for visitors to walk through. A number of relics from saints are entombed for the faithful to pray over. This shrine had something a bit unusual. Notice the grate at the bottom of the photo? Individuals had dropped coins through the open squares, and it was being collected below.
There was an upper crypt and a lower crypt containing shrines of several apostles and saints.
Going outside of the basilica the bell tower remains striking and seen across the city.
The octagonal bell tower represents two stages f construction: a Romanesque stage, recognizable by its three levels of openings with semi-circular arches: and a Gothic stage with its two levels of mitered arch openings, surmounted by a spire with a cross at its summit.
As we were leaving the basilica the bell tower was chiming. Here is a short recording.
This church really stood out and we kept saying it was ‘pretty’. The detailing and the building materials were meshed together well. Initially the masons used brick and stone but the high price of stone forced them to only brick on the top sections of the building. While this was a necessity of the times, the end result was very striking. It definitely made an impression upon us.