Holidays in exotic places leave some unexpected memories. This week my wife and I are visiting my oldest son’s family in Toulouse, in the South of France. This morning we did a walking tour of the historic places and there heard for the first time the story of the martyrdom of Saint Saturnis (known locally as St Semin).
It seems that Saturnis, or Semin, the first Christian Bishop of Toulouse, was living in precarious times for a Christian Bishop because although he was determined to spread the gospel in the area, the Roman emperors had not yet reached the point where Christianity was a protected and even favoured religion in the Empire. It happened that in the year 250AD the good Bishop walking through the town streets when he came across a pagan ceremony whereby a wild bull was about to be sacrificed.
The Bishop was recognised by some of those involved in the ceremony. He was seized, and his captors demanded that he renounce his allegience to Christ. The Bishop showed his courage by steadfastly refusing – and as a consequence, was flung to the ground, tied by the feet to the tethered bull, which was then released to run in panicked state through the cobbled streets. By the time the Bishop’s body broke free from the Bull on one of the side streets off the main square, the Bishop was dead, and his body was left as a dreadful warning to any who might be tempted to follow his teaching. Later under the cover of dark, two brave women who were from the Christian community took his body and buried it in a deep ditch to save his body from further indignities.
Coincidentally earlier that day I had been reading one of my favourite Christian writers Colin Morris who was pointing out that for many, the decision to become a Christian was seen as roughly equivalent to the old operation whereby a hot wire was used to excise the frontal lobe of the brain to turn the mentally disturbed to the equivalent of a happy vegetable. Colin Morris would have none of that view, pointing out that the authentic Christian life has nothing to do with avoiding the realities of life and indeed may even produce situations which add to the trauma of daily living.
For the Bishop Saturnis, his life’s end was anything but placid, yet the profound effect its ending had on the Southern France region’s Christian community in the following years, showed that even in martyrdom he had provided a focus and inspiration for those who followed. When I hear Christians insisting that nothing more is required of them than silent prayer when confronted with grim realities, I confess to a suspicion that they believe that they have signed up for the sans frontal lobe happy vegetable state.
Certainly, unspoken thoughts are unlikely arouse the slightest emotion from onlookers. Again from Colin Morris – this time from his book Get Through Till Nightfall: ” very few people are put up against a wall to be shot just for thinking, provided they keep their thoughts to themselves. Action however is a form of public communication which can be costly – which is why there is a cross at the heart of Christianity“.