Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Did Saint Fermin really run with the bulls?

From: Spero News

Forgive me today, with the cold chilly winter weather beating at my window, to think of summer in Spain. Often when those two words, "Spain" and "summer" are mentioned, people respond with phrases that reflect visions of sangria, flamenco and the running of the bulls in Pamplona during the San Fermin festivities.

It seems everybody has images of this hedonistic orgy popularized by Hemingway - and who basically ruined the festival, such so that now the aficionados are in the minority.

It wasn't always that way, but nowadays, during the first week of July, Pamplona's streets are thronged with drunken Euro-Rail travellers urinating in the streets, as if in some mad Bobby Kennedy ritual - should I mention the Spanish ex-pat legend that has it that the younger Kennedy is said to have been picked up by local police during a wild night out, to only be set free after the US embassy stepped in? Or was it the legendary JFK? Depends upon who is telling the story.

The fact is that now running with the bulls is quite dangerous - the danger not coming from the bulls, but instead from drunken foreigners who enter the street to run braved by alcohol after sleepless nights of partying.

The Associated Press once quoted me in a story that ran in the US on "The Running of the Bulls," and for which I was asked, "Would you run in Pamplona?" To which I responded, "No, there are too many drunks and piss in the street."

But I digress.

Nobody seems to ask, who was Saint Fermin - nor for that matter what is his connection to the running of the bulls - and even more importantly, "Is this a religious celebration?"

Could it be that he was named a saint because he ran with the bulls better than anybody else?


From Wikipedia: Saint Fermin is one of many locally venerated Catholic saints. Fermin is the co-patron of Pamplona, where his feast, the 'San Fermin', is forever associated with the Encierro or 'Running of the Bulls' made famous by Ernest Hemingway. Fermin was long venerated also at Amiens, where he met martyrdom.


Fermin is said to have been the son of a Roman of senatorial rank in Pamplona in the 3rd century, who was converted to Christianity. According to tradition, he was baptised by Saint Saturnin 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, Sernin or Cernin, was the first bishop of Toulouse, where he was sent during the "consulate of Decius and Gratus" (250 AD).

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, but more credibly must in fact be 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.

Fermin was ordained a priest in Toulouse, according to the local legend, and returned to Pamplona as its first bishop. On a later voyage preaching the gospel, Fermin was beheaded in Amiens, France, on September 25, 303 AD.

Besides Pamplona, San Fermin is venerated in other places in Navarre, such as Lesaka, in the fiesta

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