Saint of the Day – 18 December – Saint Gatian of Tours (c 251- 301) First Bishop of Tours, Missionary – St Gatian was the founding Bishop of the see of Tours. He was one of the “Seven apostles of Gaul” commissioned by Pope Fabian to evangelise in the region. St Gatian is also known as Catianus, Gatianus, Gratianus; French: Cassien, Gatien, Gratien. Patronage – Tours, both the City and the Archdiocese.
Pope Fabian sent out seven Bishops from Rome to Gaul to preach the Gospel – Gatian to Tours, Trophimus to Arles, Paul to Narbonne, Saturnin to Toulouse, Denis to Paris, Austromoine to Clermont and Martial to Limoges. A community of Christians had already existed for many years in Lyon, where Irenaeus had been bishop.
St Gatien arrived with with St Dionysius of Paris, about the middle of the third century and preached the faith principally at Tours in Gaul, where he fixed his episcopal see.
There were few Christians in Tours at that time and in one of the troubled years of his Episcopate, he is said for a time to have lain concealed in a cave on the banks of the Loire, at a spot where later rose the great Abbey of Marmoutier. Gratian would go into the city only when opportunities of preaching presented themselves. He devoted half a century to evangelisation, amid innumerable difficulties but with great success too, for at his death, the diocese of Tours was securely established.
In a part of the Empire where Mithraism was a dominating force among the legions, the Abbé Jaud reports that Gatian likewise retreated into a grotto and there celebrated the mystical banquet. Gatian was often portrayed officiating a ceremony in a cavern-like setting. Two grottos cut into the limestone hill above the Loire, across from Tours at Marmoutier Abbey, are designated the first sites where Gatian celebrated the liturgy.
Gatianus established a hospice for the poor outside the walls of Tours. There he lay, overcome with weariness, after five decades of fasting, penances and toil. And there, the Sbbé Jaud relates, the Saviour appeared to him, saying, “Fear not! Thy crown is readied and the Saints await thy arrival in Heaven.” The date was the 18 December 301.
After his death, the Bishopric of Tours was orphaned for 36 years due to the recent persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian. Only his successor St Litorius (337-371) was able to build the first church in Tours. It replaced a memorial to the martyr Mauritius. Bishop St Martin of Tours found the buriel site of St Gatian and had them transferred to this church, from which today’s cathedral was built. Since then it has been called Saint Gatian.
Today many towns, institutions, schools, an airport and even a golf course bear the name of Saint Gatian.
St Gregory of Nazianzen wrote this poem in St Gatian’s honour and it appears in the Roman Martyrology:
“You dissolved darkness
and gave birth to Light
in order to create all things in Light
and to give consistency, to unstable matter,
by shaping it into the shape of a world.
You have, here below,
introduced the image of splendour from above,
so that by the Light man looks at the Light
and becomes entirely Light.”