Saint Fermin, depicted in an eighteenth-century oil painting
|Bishop and Martyr|
|Venerated in||Eastern Orthodox Church|
Roman Catholic Church
|Feast||25 September; 7 July in Pamplona, Spain|
|Patronage||Amiens, France, Lesaka, Spain, Navarre, Spain.|
Saint Fermin (also Firmin, from Latin Firminus; Spanish Fermín) is a legendary holy man and martyr, traditionally venerated as the patron saint of Pamplona, the capital of Navarre. His death may be associated with either the Decian (250) or Diocletianic persecution (303).
Although he is said to have lived in the third century, Fermin's legend is a creation of the ninth century. It probably originates in the diocese of Toulouse, which endeavoured to spread the cult of the first bishop of Toulouse, Saturninus, by creating subsidiary cults, of which Fermin's is one. If there was a historical Fermin he is wholly unknown and was probably no more than a name on a tombstone around which an edifying legend was crafted.
According to the legend, a senator from Pamplona named Firmus was converted to Christianity by Honestus and persuaded Saturninus to come to Pamplona to baptise him. There the bishop preached to large crowds and baptised some 40,000 people over three days. Firmus's son, Firminus (Fermin), was entrusted to Honestus for his Christian education and at age 31 went to Toulouse to be consecrated by Saturninus's successor, Honoratus. Fermin then went to preach in northern Gaul, where he became associated with the city of Amiens. He was persecuted and ultimately martyred.
Fermin is said to have been the son of Eugenia and Firmo, a Roman of senatorial rank in Pamplona in the 3rd century. Fermin was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus, a disciple of Saint Saturninus. According to tradition, he was baptised by Saturninus (in Navarra "San Cernin") at the spot now known as the Pocico de San Cernin, the "Small Well of San Cernin", across from the facade of the church dedicated to St Cernin, which is built on the foundations of a pagan temple.
Saturninus was the first bishop of Toulouse, where he was sent during the "consulate of Decius and Gratus" (AD 250). He was martyred (traditionally in 257 AD), significantly by being tied to a bull by his feet and dragged to his death, a martyrdom that is sometimes transferred to Fermin and relocated at Pamplona. In Toulouse, the earliest church, dedicated to Notre-Dame du Taur ("Our Lady of the Bull") still exists, though rebuilt; though the 11th century Basilica of Saint-Sernin, the largest surviving Romanesque structure in France, has superseded it, the church is said to be built where the bull stopped. More likely, it was built on a site previously dedicated to a pre-Christian sacred bull, perhaps the bull of Mithras. The street, which runs straight from the Capitole, is named, not the Rue de Notre-Dame, but the Rue du Taur. San Cernin (Saturninus) is the patron saint of Pamplona.
Fermin was ordained a priest in Toulouse, according to the local legend, and returned to Pamplona as its first bishop. Some years later, he preached the gospel through Aquitania, Auvernia and Anjou, before settling in Amiens, France, where he was also named Bishop of Amiens. The local authorities in Amiens had him imprisoned and later beheaded. He died on September 25, AD 303.
In Legenda aurea several miracles attended the discovery and translation of the relics of Saint Fermin in the time of Savin, bishop of Amiens (traditionally ca 600). A sweet odor arose from his grave. The smell caused ice and snow to melt, flowers to grow, the sick to be cured, and trees to be inclined reverently toward the saint.
The Abbey of Saint-Acheul in Amiens was founded in 1085 on the supposed tomb of Saint Firmin. Under the choir of the abbey's church there is a vault in the place where the body of Saint Firmin was miraculously discovered. The cult of St Firmin was of great religious and economic importance to Amiens during the Middle Ages and into modern times. Legends grew up to explain the discovery of the saint's relics, most of which were held at Amiens. He is represented in a number of major works of art in Amiens Cathedral.
When certain relics of the saint were brought back to Pamplona in 1196, the city decided to mark the occasion with an annual event. Over the centuries, the saint's festival, the ancient annual fair and the running of the bulls and subsequent bullfights have all melded together.
Besides Pamplona, San Fermín is venerated in other places in Navarre, such as Lesaka, in the fiesta called the Regata del Bidasoa. In the basilica of San Fermín de Aldapa, the martyrdom of Saint Fermin is still commemorated on September 25. On the preceding Thursday to Sunday there are numerous festivities there, in the Navarrería (a neighbourhood of Pamplona) and near the Cathedral. Celebrations begin with a firework rocket set off by a youngster from the Navarrería, who has been given the title of the little mayor. As at Pamplona, the celebrations have a special closing ceremony called Pobre de Mí (Poor Me).
There is a mysterious well of an otherwise unknown "Saint Farmin" at Bowes, Yorkshire, England. The existence of a monastery named after a Saint Firmin in North Crawley was recorded in the Domesday Book (i.149a); there was a holy well in the churchyard, and unauthorized pilgrimages there were suppressed in 1298. The church at Thurlby, Lincs is dedicated to St Firmin. The only other St. Firmin in England rested at Thorney, Cambridgeshire. These occurrences point towards possible veneration of Firmin in Anglo-Saxon England.
The San Fermin festival is celebrated in Pamplona, in the region of Navarre, every year from the 6th to the 14th of July. It has become internationally known because of the running of the bulls, where the bulls are led through the streets of the old quarter as far as the bull ring by runners. The fiestas are celebrated in honor of San Fermin, patron saint of Navarra, although the religious aspect would seem to have taken on a secondary role over the last number of years.
The funeral monument of Adrien de Henencourt, head of the chapter of Amiens Cathedral in the early 16th century, depicts not only the life and martyrdom of the saint, but also the posthumous history of his body, in a series of polychrome reliefs and statuary.
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- Roger Collins, The Basques (Blackwell, 1986), p. 61: "In this tale there exists not an iota of truth".
- Edith Mary Wightman, Gallia Belgica (University of California Press, 1985), p. 286.
- "History of... The saint-Saint San Fermin festival- Sanfermines-tourist information on Navarre". Government of Navarre. Archived from the original on 2009-08-18. Retrieved 2009-07-23.
- Dégert, Antoine. "St. Saturninus." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912] This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- "Who was Saint Fermin?", sanferminofficial.com
- Amadó, Ramón Ruiz. "Diocese of Pamplona." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 26 January 2019 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Susie Nash; British Library (1999). Between France and Flanders: Manuscript Illumination in Amiens. University of Toronto Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-8020-4114-2.
- Legenda Aurea: The Life and Miracles of St. Fermin (Firmin) of Amiens, Bishop & Martyr of the Church
- "Eglise Saint-Acheul", base Mérimée (in French), Ministère de la Culture, 13 October 2015, retrieved 2017-09-27
- The parish church is still dedicated to Firmin today.
- Alan Thacker and Richard Sharpe, Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West, "A Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Saints" p. 535.
- Salmon, Charles (1861). Histoire de saint Firmin, martyr, premier évêque d'Amiens, patron de la Navarre et des diocèses d'Amiens et de Pampelune (in French). Arras: Rousseau-Leroy.