|Saint Saturninus is dragged to his death by a bull. A 19th century engraving|
from Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints.
Saturninus was bishop of Tolosa — Toulouse in modern-day France. He was martyred either during the the persecution of Christians initiated by Decius (AD 250) or Valerian (AD 258). Saturninus is mentioned by the 6th century historian Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks as one of the seven bishops sent out by Pope Fabian to preach to the Gauls:
“These bishops were sent: bishop Catianus to Tours; bishop Trophimus to Arles; bishop Paul to Narbonne; bishop Saturninus to Toulouse; bishop Dionisius to Paris; bishop Stremonius to Clermont, bishop Martial to Limoges.” [Taken from A History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours]In this same passage, Gregory mentions and indeed quotes from the martyrdom account of Saint Saturninus, thus providing a confirmation of the account's antiquity.
Here are some excerpts from the original account as translated into English by Andrew Eastbourne:
During the consulship of Decius and Gratus, as the faithful report tells, the city of Toulouse had received Saturninus as its first and supreme priest of Christ. By his faith and virtue, the oracles of those demons who were worshipped in this same city began to cease. Their fabrications were laid bare, their machinations uncovered, all their power among the pagans, all their deceit, began to decrease as the faith of the Christians increased. Since the aforementioned bishop in his going to and from the church which was quite small at that time, often went past the Capitol, which was between his house and the house of God, the deceitful crowd of demons was not able to stand the holy man’s presence, and the statues (mute as they were), overshadowed by no apparitions, remained in silence [as their only response] to the impious worship and the customary prayers of those who came to consult them.
All the priests of impious superstition, disturbed by the novelty of such a great thing, began to ask themselves whence this muteness (not usual for such a long time) had suddenly come upon their gods, and who had shut their ever-babbling mouths so that they, not moved by the prayers of those who called upon them nor charmed by the shed blood of bulls and so many sacrifices, refused to give any response to those who consulted them—[were they] angry or absent? They heard from a certain enemy of our religion that some sect hostile to pagan superstition had arisen which was called Christian, and that it was striving to destroy their gods. Also, the bishop of this faith was Saturninus, who passed by the Capitol frequently. It was at the sight of this man that the mouths of their gods were terrified and fell silent. They could not easily be re-opened unless an accelerated death took that bishop away….A group of pagans assembled near the Capitol and puzzled over what to do next. They had prepared a bull for sacrifice in order to propitiate their gods when Saturninus, happened to walk by. He was recognized by someone in the crowd who shouted:
“Look! the adversary of our worship himself, the standard-bearer of the new religion, who preaches the destruction of temples, who despises our gods by calling them demons, whose constant presence, finally, prevents us from obtaining oracles! And so, since the end he deserves has presented the very man to us at the opportune time, let us take vengeance for the injury to ourselves and to our gods at the same time! And now, through our compulsion, may he either be pleasing to them by sacrificing, or make them joyful by dying!”
With the urging of such an impious voice, the whole crowd of lunatics surrounded the holy man and, once a priest and two deacons who had accompanied him had fallen away in flight, he was brought alone to the Capitol. As they were trying to force him to sacrifice to the demons, he bore witness in a clear voice:
“I know only one God, the true God. I will offer to Him the sacrifice of praise. I know that your gods are demons, and you honor them (in vain) not so much by the sacrifice of cattle as by the deaths of your own souls. Now, how is it that you want me to fear those by whom, as I hear, you say I am feared?”
At these words of the holy bishop, the whole boisterous, impious multitude was inflamed and used that bull which had been prepared as a sacrificial victim in the service of their savagery, tying a rope around its flanks and leaving it loose in back. They bound the holy man’s feet with the end of the rope that was hanging down behind the bull and drove the bull with rather sharp blows to rush down from the upper part of the Capitol onto the plain. Without delay, during the first part of the descent of that slope, his head having been dashed [against the rocks], his brain having been scattered, and his body having been mangled in every part, his soul, worthy of God, was received by Christ so that after the victory He [i.e., Christ] might crown with His own laurels [the soul] that pagan fury had wrenched out with torments while he was fighting faithfully for Christ’s name.
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The complete account of the martyrdom and subsequent history of the relics of Saint Saturninus may be found at the incredibly useful Tertullian.org website, as well as in I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources. This book contains numerous similar accounts of martyrs from the earliest centuries of the Christian era and is well worth reading if this sort of thing interests you.