Feast of St. Aphrodise in Béziers

Posted May 4, 2021

By Sister Thérèse-Marie Potelle, rscm
Area  from France

Béziers honours St. Aphrodise as its patron saint every year on 28 April. The oldest traditions of the churches of Béziers present Aphrodise as a character from apostolic times.

Born in Hermopolis, Egypt, and holding high office in that city, he is said to have had the good fortune to give asylum to the Holy Family fleeing the wrath of Herod. Afterwards, learning of the wonders worked by his former host and touched by grace, he came to Judea and was admitted to the disciples. After the resurrection he was sent to Rome by St. Peter and from there to the Roman colony of Béziers to found a Christian community despite his advanced age. His preaching and his examples attracted a small core of followers who embraced the new religion.  This did not sit well with the pagans, nor with the priests of the idols, nor with the official representatives of Rome. Imprisoned, brought before the magistrates of the Empire, Aphrodise was condemned to death and beheaded on 28 April in the Place St.Cyr in Béziers, then called “Via Cyriaca”.

The legend adds that the body of the Saint Martyr, rising by himself, took in his hands his slaughtered head, crossed the city to a small cave where his body was piously buried by the first Christians. This cave thus became the first shrine in Béziers. A few years later, a church was built over this oratory, including the burial place of Saint Aphrodise, and was dedicated to him. Many events mark the history of this first church in Béziers, ruined several times but always rebuilt.

In 1790, after the French revolution, it was sold as national property to a fodder merchant and bought back by Abbé Martin in 1802, the year Father Gailhac was born. It was in this basilica, in the apse of St. Aphrodise, that Father Gailhac received his baptism.  To this day, the devotion to St. Aphrodise has been maintained in all its splendour, especially on 28 April, when the whole city of Béziers celebrates its patron saint. In this year of lockdown the festivities have been adapted to the health situation of the moment. The parade that criss-crosses the city every year could not take place, nor the folk dances of the “Treilles” to celebrate the vineyard, nor the procession of the camel of St. Aphrodise coming to receive from the hands of the civil and religious authorities a “Cibado”, an offering intended for the poor. But with Sisters Bernadette, Marie-Paule and Françoise and a full assembly of the faithful, we were able to enjoy a beautiful Eucharistic liturgy in the basilica, which is on the way to being restored. Courage and perseverance are recognized qualities of the saints who faced the difficulties of their time to accomplish their mission. St. Aphrodise, the first bishop of Béziers, did not lack them. Throughout the centuries, particularly in times of plague, famine and other calamities, the Christians of Béziers have always venerated their patron saint, imploring support and protection through his intercession. Today in times of Covid-19, praying to St. Aphrodise for the city of Béziers and our world is always within our reach!

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