With its wonderful brick nave containing the relics of some of the apostles including St James, the Basilica of Saint Sernin in Toulouse was one of the most sacred places on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
From the 11th century onwards, Toulouse became an essential staging post on the Arles route (or Via Tolosana). This was because the basilica there, construction of which began in 1060, contained the relics of the martyr St Sernin, who died after being dragged through the streets by a bull in 260. Legend also has it that Charlemagne gave other relics to the basilica, including those of St James and other apostles. As a result, Saint Sernin became the most important Romanesque church in the West.
With its central nave and numerous side chapels, it is reminiscent of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela that lies at the end of the journey. Indeed, the two monuments are almost identical, their construction beginning during the same period and according to the same design.
Like today's visitors, the pilgrims of old needed several days to visit all of the monuments in Toulouse, such as the Couvent des Jacobins. Founded by the Dominicans, this monastery complex includes a magnificently preserved cloister. Since 1369 the church with colonnades resembling palm trees has contained the relics of St Thomas Aquinas.
To cross the River Garonne and reach the Grand Hôtel-Dieu Saint Jacques, pilgrims had to take the Pont de la Daurade, the remains of which are still visible today, the first pile being supported by the façade of the Hôtel-Dieu on the left bank of the Garonne.
Formed by the joining of two hospitals built in the 12th and 13th centuries and modified in the 17th and 18th centuries, this imposing classical building has a formal French-style garden with a large ornamental basin representing the scallop shell of St James. Today, the Hôtel-Dieu Saint Jacques is home to the headquarters of the Hospitals of Toulouse. The public can also visit the Hospitals of Toulouse's museum of medical instruments here.
Toulouse is one of the Great Tourist Sites in Midi-Pyrénées; The Basilica of Saint Sernin and Hôtel-Dieu Saint Jacques are UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the St James's Way pilgrimage routes.