The Basilique Saint Sernin is Europe's largest Romanesque church. It is also one of the continent's finest examples of Romanesque architecture and deserves inclusion on any and all Toulouse tourist itineraries. The eleventh-century bas reliefs of Christ in His Majesty alone warrant a visit, and there is no shortage of other amazing things to see inside; visiting the basilica is deservedly on many lists of the best things to do in Toulouse.
The renowned Basilica of St Sernin Toulouse was consecrated in 1096. Old even by European standards, it was built on the site of an even older fourth-century abbey church. This church was visited by Charlemagne on at least one occasion, and the Father of Europe, as this mighty king is often labeled, donated a variety of relics on his visit. This significant event in turn served to make the old abbey church an important stop for pilgrims who were eventually destined for Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
The current Basilique Saint Sernin was largely built for the purpose of accommodating the pilgrims who were on the way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. A wide ambulatory with no fewer than five chapels was where most of the pilgrims spent the majority of their time. Found within this ambulatory are the priceless eleventh-century bas reliefs of Christ in His Majesty. From the ambulatory, visitors of the Basilique Saint Sernin can access the crypt, which houses the relics of more than 100 saints. Also found within the crypt is a thorn that has been linked to the Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore on his march to the Cross.
While exploring the vast interior of the Basilica of St Sernin Toulouse, visitors can view a variety of other things. In the upper cloister, for example, it is easy to get a good look at the dazzling Romanesque capitals that are found atop the columns. The church's high altar also deserves special attention, as do the medieval frescoes and the renowned organ. The high altar is made of marble and has been finely carved, while the medieval frescoes include a depiction of Christ's Resurrection. As for the Basilique Saint Sernin organ, it dates back to 1888 and was designed by the famous nineteenth-century organ maker, Aristide Cavaille-Coll. As is true of the Cavaille-Coll organs that can be found at the Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris and the Church of St Ouen in Rouen, it is considered to be among France's most important organs.
There is a lot to see inside the Basilique Saint Sernin. Visitors won't want to focus solely on the interior, however. The exterior is quite impressive, too. Among the defining features is the five-tiered tower. The bottom three tiers were built in the 1100s, while the upper two date back to the 1300s. Capping the tiers is a spire that was added in the 1400s. Also of special interest when it comes to the church's exterior are the Porte des Comtes and the Porte des Miegeville. Both doorways feature amazing artwork. Capitals that depict the story of Lazarus are among the features of the Porte des Comtes, while the Porte des Miegeville is adorned with sculptures from the twelfth century.
It doesn't cost anything to access the Basilique Saint Sernin's church. There is a small admission fee for the crypt and the ambulatory, however. The daily summer hours for the church are 8:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. The rest of the year, the church is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., and then again from 2 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. The crypt and the ambulatory, on the other hand, are open daily from 8:30 am to 5:45 pm in the summer. The rest of the year, the daily hours change to 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and there are special morning hours on Mondays and Saturdays. Sightseeing is not allowed during the Sunday morning masses.
Basilique Saint Sernin is located in Place St Sernin. This place, or plaza, is situated on the northern side of town. Not far to the east is the Jeanne d'Arc metro station, while the university is found to the near west. Rue du Taur (du Taur Street) connects Place St Sernin to the more centrally located Place du Capitole.