The Pilgrim’s Guide enjoined pilgrims to visit the tomb of Saint Severinus. The city of Bordeaux was a major halt on the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela. It was on the Tours Road, which led through western France via, Tours, Poitiers and Saintes.
Bordeaux was the metropolitan see of Aquitaine, a domain which at the time stretched from the Loire all the way to the Pyrenees.
The abbey of Saint Seurin held numerous important relics for pilgrims to venerate. In addition to the Olifant of Roland and the Frankish warrior martyrs of Roncevaux there was the tomb of the city’s illustrious saint which was located in an imposing setting in the crypt.
The relics were guarded by a chapter of canons of the Rule of Saint Augustine. It was this same monastic order, which presided over the other notable reliquary sites on this road, which perpetuated the legacy of the Roncevaux legend at Saint Romain de Blaye and Notre Dame de Roncevaux.
Severinus had been a holy man in the early years of the fifth century.
According to his legend there was at that time a bishop of Bordeaux named Amandus. In a vision Christ appeared to him and ordained Amandus to go out of the city. He would meet a holy man on the road who came from the East. Amandus duly went out and met Severinius.
Immediately, Amandus recognised the sanctity of the stranger, and brought him into the city in great ceremony. Soon after he relinquished his position as bishop and placed Severinus in his stead, deeming him more worthy.
After his death Severinus was buried in an oratory outside the city walls in Bordeaux’s Late Antique necropolis. A cult developed around the relics and Severinus was said to have performed numerous posthumous miracles. He came to be regarded as the patron and protector of Bordeaux.
A church was built over the tomb where the inhabitants would gather whenever their city was threatened by natural or manmade disaster, offering prayers to Severinus.
The saint of Bordeaux’s miracles were celebrated and in the sixth century both Venantius Fortunatus and Gregory of Tours wrote of them.
According to Gregory, the citizens “knew that whenever their city was either invaded by an illness or besieged by some enemy or disrupted by some feud, they would immediately be delivered.”
When the region was attacked by Goths a few years after Severinus’ death, the saint caused a miraculous fog to descend, which protected the people from attack.
The saint protected Bordeaux at various times from flooding caused by a torrential rain, plague and drought.
The Pilgrim’s Guide admonished that, “In the city of Bordeaux one should visit the remains of the Blessed Seurin, bishop and confessor”.
Biblio: Gregory of Tours, The Glory of the Confessors, Trans R. Vandam, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 1990. Autour de Saint-Seurin: lieu, mémoire, pouvouir. Des Premiers temps chrétiens à la fin du Moyen Âge – Actes du colloque de Bordeaux (12-14 octobre 2006) ed. Isabelle Cartron, Dany Barraud, Patrick Henriet, Anne Michel Bordeaux 2009 Ausonius Editions – Mémoires 21