Postcard from Bordeaux, France: Saint Seurin saved the city, but Vikings later destroyed his church

Above, statue of Saint Seurin of Bordeaux

With the withdrawal of Roman protection, Aquitaine became vulnerable to attacks by a host of others – the Vandals, the Goths, the Franks.

According to legends, as Saint Martin of Tours was dying in the year 397, he appeared in a vision to Seurin, a bishop engaged in fighting the spread of Arianism. Saint Martin directed Seurin to go to Bordeaux.

Bordeaux had no job openings for bishop, but, miraculously, the presiding bishop had a vision as well. The Lord directed him to welcome Seurin with open arms. So, the pair met, embraced and entered the church together; Seurin emerged with the title. The timing was fortuitous for the city’s residents, under attack by either Goths or Franks at the time, because Seurin was able to perform numerous miracles to successfully defend the city.

Bordeaux has remained grateful to Seurin, honoring him as the city’s patron saint. Unfortunately, some time shy of the year 1000, miracles failed to save his church, and much of the city, from destruction wreaked upon it by pillaging Vikings who had sailed down the Garonne.

Construction of the current Basilica of Saint Seurin was begun in the Romanesque style in the 11th century. As with most churches, improvements did not stop there. The belfry is in in the style of the Renaissance, and the most prominent portal is Gothic in design.

After remaining sealed off to the public for 50 years, the crypt underneath the church reopened less than a decade ago. Some believe Saint Seurin himself is entombed there, as well as several other saints. Among those are Saint Fort, the first bishop of Bordeaux, and possibly Saint Veronica, who offered a cloth to Jesus on the Calvary, his face leaving an imprint on what became a precious relic. Pilgrims on route to Santiago de Campostela would pay their respects at the church and visit the crypt as well.

In 1910, a vast necropolis was discovered under the adjacent Place des Martyrs de la Resistance and beyond, containing more than 400 graves of early Christians. Unfortunately for a taphophiliac such as this blogger, it currently is closed to the public.

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