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San Fermin: The saint behind the running of the bulls

July 10, 2012
One of the most famous feasts in Spain is that of San Fermin in the city of Pamplona. Everyone has seen the images of people dressed in white running in front of the bulls. Behind that feast is Saint Fermin of Amiens. Who is he?
Fermin is said to have been the son of a Roman of senatorial rank in Pamplona in the 3rd century. He was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus, a disciple of Saint Saturninus. According to tradition, he was baptized by Saturninus 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.
According to the local legend, he was ordained a priest in Toulouse, and returned to Pamplona as its first bishop. On a later voyage preaching the gospel, Fermin was beheaded in Amiens, France. He died on September 25, AD 303. Several miracles are associated with the discovery and translation of the relics of Saint Fermin in the time of Savin, bishop of Amiens. It is said that 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 reason why he is celebrated in  Pamplona with the running of the  bulls is because of an incident attributed to Fermin that actually happened to his master Saturninus. Legend says he was arrested and condemned to the death penalty because of his faith. He was tied to a bull by his feet and dragged to his death. In spite of the fact it was not Fermin who died that way the people of Pamplona started celebrating San Fermin with bull races, the Encierros.
These celebrations have fascinated countless people around the world. Ernest Hemingway wrote a book about the Encierros. The Sun Also Rises is set in Pamplona during the feast of San Fermin.
The universal Church celebrates Saint Fermin of Amiens on September 25. In Pamplona the feast takes place on July 7 because the bulls are such a vital part of the celebration and the bull fairs take part in July.
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Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service
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