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Who was Saint-Quentin to whom is the Church of Wirwignes dedicated?

The church of Wirwignes is dedicated to Saint Quentin, which is a sign of its seniority. Saint Quentin is, in fact, an evangelizer martyred in Belgian Gaul in the second half of the 3rd century by the Roman governor of the province, Rictius Varus. 

His cult spread very early, especially in the northern provinces, soon to be French or Belgian.

Saint Quentin de Poses.jpg

Church of Poses (Eure): statue of Saint Quentin on a canopy altarpiece (16th century). 


His life and work are known to us through several works, more legendary than historical:

  • By Gloria Martyrumof Gregory of Tours, VIth  siècle, preserves the account of the discovery of the body of Saint Quentin, 

  • the Latin manuscript BnF 5299 contains aVita et passiones martyriumfrom the 9th century which is thought to be a copy of a work prior to the time of Saint Eloi because he is not mentioned there,

  • Vita and miracula s. Quintini,12th century, Municipal Library of Saint-Quentin, manuscript known as "L'Authentique" or the Raimbert manuscript,

  • thereLife of Saint Eloi, Vita Sancti Eligliis a work of Saint Ouen,author Dadone sive Audoeno,his friend. It was written in the seventh century.

It has also been illustrated by books:

  • The Life of the Very Illustrious Martyr Saint Quentin, Apostle and Patron of Vermandoisby Claude Bendier, Saint-Quentin, Le Queux, 1673,

  • The Mystery of Saint Quentin, followed by the inventions of Saint Quentin's body by Eusèbe and Éloiattributed to Jean Molinet, native of Desvres and Great Rhetorician,

  • and many works of art: illuminations from the manuscript of theVita and miracula s. Quintini, polychrome wooden statues from the churches of Nucourt (Val-d'Oise), Halloy-lès-Pernois (Somme), Poses (Eure), tapestry from the Cluny Museum, bas-reliefs from the Saint-Quentin basilica in Saint-Quentin (Aisne), paintings in the altarpiece of the Saint-Quintin church in Galey (Ariège) for example.

  • Jacques de Voragine, in hisGolden Legend, in the 13th century, provides preachers with the information he deems useful on Saint Quentin:

Quentin, a noble Roman citizen, came to Amiens where, having performed many miracles, he was taken by the order of Maximien, prefect of the city, and beaten with rods, until the executioners were entirely exhausted; after which he was thrown into prison. But an angel having delivered him, he went into the middle of the city to preach to the people. Taken a second time, stretched from the top of the easel until his veins had been ruptured, beaten roughly with oxjacks, he endured the oil, the pitch, the boiling grease; as he made fun of the president, the latter, irritated, had lime, vinegar, and mustard thrown into his mouth. But he still remained steadfast; then he was taken to Vermand, where the president had him drive two pins which went from his head to his thighs, and ten nails between his fingernails and his flesh; finally he had him beheaded. 

His body, thrown into a river, remained hidden there for 55 years, and was found as follows by a noble Roman lady. As she devoted herself assiduously to prayer, one night, she was warned by an angel to go in all haste to the camp of Vermand in order to look for the body of Saint Quentin in such a place and to bury it. with honor. She therefore went, with a large retinue, to the place designated, and having said her prayers there, the body of Saint Quentin whole and healthy, and spreading a sweet odor, immediately floated on the river. She buried him: and to reward her for this good office, she recovered the use of her sight. She built a church there, after which she retired to her domains.

(The Golden Legend, volume II, page 305 , translation by J.-BM Roze, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1967 )


Illumination from the Raimbert manuscript, page 004,
CNRS initial

Here is the heart of the legend, as it founded a very strong cult to Saint Quentin.

The other documents make it possible to develop the legend: Quintinus was born in Rome into a senatorial family in the 3rd century. His father Zeno was a pagan who did not approve of his conversion to Christianity at a time when the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian issued edicts to compel Christians to conform to the Roman religion. 

Full of religious enthusiasm, Quintinus left Rome for a mission of evangelization in Belgian Gaul with eleven young people: Lucien, Crépin, Crépinien, Rufin, Valère, Marcel, Eugène, Victorice, Fuscien, Piat and Rieul, reconstituting the number of Apostles of Christ.

Compagnons de saint Quentin - Chrysole, Piat, Fuscien, Victorice, Eugène, Marcel, Valère,

Bas-relief of the basilica of Saint-Quentin (Aisne):Quentin leaves Rome with his companions, enclosure wall of the choir, 1884-1890, Francis and Aimé Jacquier.

Quentin goes tosamarobriva- Amiens where he began an effective preaching work. He is arrested and imprisoned on the order of thepraefectus praetorii, Roman governor, present atsamarobriva-Amiens but who ordinarily resides inAugusta Treverorum- Trier. He is arrested and imprisoned, tortured to renounce his faith but he resists. THEpraefectus praetoriimust go to the capital of Belgian Gaul which isDurocortorum-Reims where Quentin's trial will take place. Along the way, the convoy stops atAugusta Veromanduorum-Saint-Quentin or Vermand, thepraefectus praetoriihas Quentin tortured again and then orders his execution, his beheading and that his body be thrown into the Somme.

His companions carry out their missions through Belgian Gaul: Lucien evangelizesCaesaromagus- Beauvais, Crépin and his brother Crépinien, Rufin and Valère,Augusta Suessionum- Soissons, Fuscien and Victorice, the region of Saint-Omer, Saint Piat, Tournai, and they experience martyrdom under the orders of the samepraefectus praetorii.Rieul and Eugène become companions of Saint Denis: Rieul becomes bishop of Senlis, Eugène is arrested at Deuil-la-Barre (Val-d'Oise), executed and his body is thrown into the lake of Enghien (his body, found , is then deposited in Saint-Denis ). The praefectus praetoriiRictius Varus martyred hundreds of Christians. Legend has it that he converted and was himself martyred and killed for his faith. His feast day is celebrated on July 6.

The body of Saint Quentin, found in the 4th century, it seems, is buried in a chapel on the site of his martyrdom. Gregory of Tours attests to this:apud Virmandinsim oppidum (De Gloria Martyrum)[1], which is confirmed by Saint Ouen in theLife of Saint EloiLocum illum est enim haud procul ab urbe Vermendense, in eo loco ubi quondam martyr … in monte fuerat tumulatus.[1]Around 651, Saint Éloi, bishop of Noyon, the new episcopal see which succeeded Vermand and Saint-Quentin, found the body and placed it in a tomb near the altar, then enlarged or rebuilt the church and decorated it richly:_cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_Ecclesiam quoque, quae exigua conventibus populi videbatur, eximio opificio ampliatam decoravit.[2]  The building has been extended and transformed several times. In 835, the abbot Hugues placed the body of Saint Quentin in a crypt placed under the apse. In 845, King Charles the Bald had Saint Cassian buried at his side, then, in 893, Saint Victorice joined them.[3]. In 1228, the choir was enlarged and the body of Saint Quentin was moved to a shrine, his head and his hand were placed in two reliquaries. This reliquary is transformed, enriched, it is stolen, found[4]  but in 1793, when the revolutionaries burned the relics of the basilica, Saint Quentin disappeared. It was in 1807 that Monsignor de Beaulieu, bishop of Soissons, brought a hand and the head that had survived out of their hiding place and staged their reappearance in the square of the basilica. 


Legends surround Saint Quentin. A tapestry preserved in the Cluny Museum tells how a horse thief escaped death thanks to Saint Quentin who caused the chain to break during the hanging.


The Miracle of Saint Quentin, tapestry attributed to Josse Lieferinxe, northern France, second half of the 15th century, Paris, Musée de Cluny,photo Cluny Museum.

It is also said that no farrier could stay in the village of Marteville (Aisne) where the brooches driven into the shoulders of Saint Quentin had been forged. 


Scholars today question the historical truth of Rictius Varus and research by the CNRS has shown that the hand of Saint-Quentin must have been dated to the 15th or 16th century. 

There remains a legend and a cult which has been illustrated by numerous works of art and piety.


Saint Quentin is often depicted:

  • like a young man with a spindle or an auger in each shoulder,

  • with nails on the body and under the nails,

  • like a deacon,

  • with a broken wheel,

  • sitting on a chair,

  • pierced by a sword,

  • decapitated, a dove flying from his severed head

He is the patron saint of bombers, chaplains, locksmiths, porters, tailors and surgeons. He is called upon, as a holy miracle-worker, to cure coughs and sneezes, dropsy and obesity.


[1] Bruno Krusch edition, Monumenta Germaniae historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum, Hanover, 1896, volume I, p. 536, l. 13 and 24.

[2] Id., volume IV, p.698.

[3] Id., volume IV, p. 699.

[4] Id. volume XV, pp. 270 and 271.

[5] For details, read Chronologie de la basilica de Saint-Quentin, Bulletin Monumental, tome 117, n°1, 1959


Saint Quentin from Nucourt (Val-d'Oise), last quarter of the 16th century, polychrome stone, H. 90 cm, Musée du Vexin Français at Théméricourt (Val-d'Oise)_cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_Photograph by Pierre Poschadel, CCBY4.0

Saint Quentin de Mathaux.jpg

Saint Quentin from Mathaux (Aube), 16th century, polychrome limestone, H.119 cm Photo POP, Ministry of Culture.

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