Passion of St Saturninus of Toulouse – now online in English

In the early 5th century an unknown writer edited an account from ca. 300 of the death of Bishop Saturninus of Toulouse.  He added a preface, and a conclusion recording the moving of the saint’s remains; but the main core of the account remained the same.  It is an interesting, and historical, insight into how Christians might still be lynched at this period.

Andrew Eastbourne has kindly translated this text for us.  The result is public domain; use it for any purpose, personal, educational or commercial.

HTML version:

PDF and Word format:

I need to write an intro, giving details of why the text is mainly authentic and historical, as too few of the hagiographical texts are.  But that will probably be later!

From my diary

Some may recall that I commissioned a translation of the Passion of St Saturninus, written in the 5th century but the core of it 3rd century.  Saturninus was bishop of what is now Toulouse.  The oracles in the pagan temples started to fail, and go silent, and the priests enquired why.  Someone mentioned Saturninus, who passed through the forum (where the temples were) every day.  Saturninus was promptly arrested — today he would be accused of ‘hate crime’ no doubt — and “questioned”.

The priests demanded that he sacrifice to the pagan gods.  This demand was made, in the knowledge that it amounted to abandoning his Christian faith.  Endorsing homosexuality seems to be the modern equivalent.  Saturninus refused, and was lynched by being tied to a wild bull which rampaged around until his head was banged on something hard and he died.  He was buried secretly in a wooden chapel outside the town.

The translation of this has now arrived, and I will make it available online very soon.

I’ve also picked up a copy of H. Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, Oxford, 1972.  Curiously I have never seen a PDF of this.  It is supposed to contain text and translation for all the material of this kind which is historical rather than hagiographical, i.e. before the outbreak of fiction in the 4th century A.D.  It will be interesting to see.

Notes upon the Acts / Passion of St. Saturninus

An online forum asked about an ancient text named the Acts of St. Saturninus.  I had not heard of these, and my investigation is perhaps worth writing up.

The Passio S. Saturnini is a text which describes the death of Saturninus and other martyrs of Toulouse in Gaul during the Decian persecution.  It belongs to that category of martyrdoms which Ruinart labelled “sincera”, i.e. authentic rather than merely a later invention.[1].  The text is numbered BHL 7495-6.  (Note that a later, 7-8th century text is much longer and numbered BHL 7491, and  was edited in 2002 and published by Herder).

In its current state, the Passio S. Saturnini is a late text, edited in the second decade of the 5th century (certainly before 450 AD), two centuries after the death of the bishop, at the moment when his cult began, thanks to the translation of his relics from the modest tomb where he had been buried into a new basilica. The author of it is very definitely a clergyman of Toulouse living at the time of bishop Exuperius, or soon afterwards.[2]

Cabau wrote notes on the bishops of Toulouse in this period, which may be found here.


  • Patrice Cabau, “Opusculum de passione ac translatione sancti Saturnini, episcopi Tolosanae ciuitatis et martyris. Édition et traduction provisoires”, in: Mémoires de la Société archéologique du Midi de la France 61, 2001, p. 59-77.  This includes a full bibliography.  Online here.

French translation:

  • Pierre Maraval, Actes et Passions des martyrs chrétiens des premiers siècles. Introduction, traduction et notes, in: Sagesses Chrétiennes, Cerf, 2010, pp. 181-192.  Online here.

I have found no sign of a translation into English, unfortunately.

  1. [1]Thierry Ruinart, Acta Martyrum sincera et selecta, 1689, p.109-113; 2nd ed.  here has text on p.128 f, and a list of manuscripts used on p.lxxix.
  2. [2]From the introduction to Marival’s translation.