The massive pilgrimage church of Saint Sernin in Toulouse is the largest Romanesque church still standing in France and is one of the most important buildings of Romanesque architecture.
The magnificent Saint Sernin Basilica in the centre of Toulouse is visible from afar thanks to its striking octagonal bell tower and is considered a much-photographed landmark of the city.
As part of the Way of St James, France's largest Romanesque church has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. We have put it on our list of the 10 most beautiful churches in France and also include it in our top 10 sights of Toulouse.
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PICTURES: Saint Sernin Basilica in Toulouse
History of the Basilica of Saint Sernin
The imposing church should actually be called the Basilica of Saint Saturnin, because it was named after Saint Saturninus, the first bishop of Toulouse, who was executed as a martyr in 250.
After his death, his mortal remains were buried in the 4th century in the predecessor church of the present basilica.
The basilica, built between 1077 and 1119, soon became known as an impressive pilgrimage church and today forms an important stop on the French Way of St James.
All that remains of the former abbey of St. Sernin today is the massive church.
Art treasures in the Saint Sernin Basilica
When entering the church, it is worth taking a close look at the two entrance portals. The Porte des Comtes shows the biblical parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus.
The sculptures of the even more impressive Porte des Miégeville on the southern aisle depict the Ascension of Christ. An aisle, unusual for sacred buildings of the time, connects the chapels around the nave, as if even then pilgrims wanted to be guided to all the treasures presented without disturbing the mass.
The 115m long, 64m wide and 21m high basilica is made of striking red sandstone and houses over 250 works of art. Most of them date from the 11th or early 12th century.
The main altar of white marble, over 2m high, was created in 1096 by Bernardus Gelduinus, one of the earliest representatives of High Romanesque sculpture, and was consecrated by Pope Urban II in the same year.
Some of the marble reliefs, such as those of the angels and apostles in the choir ambulatory, are the oldest, already showing the characteristics of the Romanesque period with strictly frontal images and heads in profile. In the columned crypt of the Basilica of Saint Sernin, among other relics, are those of your namesake Saturninus.