Basilica of St Sernin | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Basilica of St Sernin

Toulouse, Occitania, France

Luke Tomes

24 Nov 2020

About Basilica of St Sernin

The Basilica of St Sernin (Basilique St-Sernin) in Toulouse is an 11th century basilica. It is said to be the largest Basilica in the Romanesque style in Europe.

Basilica of St Sernin history

Built in 1070, the basilica is named after Saint Saturninus, the first bishop of Toulouse, who was martyred in the third century AD during the Roman persecution of Christians. A vast, beautifully decorated building, the Basilica of St Sernin needed to be large enough to hold the masses of pilgrims drawn there during medieval times on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

The basilica was an ancient foundation. St. Sylvius, bishop of Toulouse, began construction of the basilica towards the end of the 4th century AD. Its importance increased enormously after Charlemagne (r. 768-800) donated a quantity of relics to it, as a result of which it became an important stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, and a pilgrimage location in its own right.

The Basilica of St Sernin was one of the stops along the route to this Spanish cathedral, an accolade which has earned is a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Basilica of St Sernin today

Basilica of St Sernin is characterized by its barrel vaults, sturdy columns and thick walls, and its arcade. It was built from stone and brick and is the largest known Romanesque structure still in existence. The interior of Saint-Sernin shows that arcades had begun to replace the individual columns, for a more flowing and elegant movement.

There are more registers in Saint-Sernin than in other churches built at earlier periods, as they were starting to build up height. Although there were Gothic and Baroque additions (some of which have been undone), the structure has remained largely the same throughout the years.

Despite being called a basilica, Saint-Sernin’s deviates from the basilica plan of early Christian architecture in a few ways. It is much larger compared to earlier churches, measuring 104 metres in length. It is also constructed mostly of brick. The building is in the form of a crucifix. The ceilings are vaulted, unlike many of the earlier churches.

Saint-Sernin’s contains radiating chapels which were used to display important relics. Another deviation from the earlier Christian churches is the addition of an ambulatory, a walkway that goes around the nave and side aisles to allow for viewing of the radiating chapels (which could be done while mass was being held without interrupting the ceremony). For these and other reasons, Saint-Sernin’s is often said to follow the “pilgrimage plan” instead of the traditional basilica plan.

Getting to the Basilica of St Sernin

The address of the location is Place Saint-Sernin, 31000 Toulouse, France. You can travel to the basilica via tram or metro. The nearest staion is Capitole ou Jeanne d’Arc, roughly a 10 minute walk, or 5 minute car journey away.

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