The Basilica of San Saturno in Cagliari: a story of martyrs and heresy
Cagliari’s Basilica of San Saturno – or San Saturnino, due to the common confusion with the first bishop of Toulouse, who was worshipped in Italy after the Victorine monks “imported” him in the Middle Ages – is an early-4th-century martyrium, that is a church built over the grave of a martyr. In this case, according to tradition, that would be Saturninus, born in Cagliari and killed because of his faith during the Diocletianic Persecutionof the Christians, in the first decade of the 4th century.
San Saturno is one of the three large domed churches in Sardinia (the other two are San Giovanni in Sinis in Cabras, and Sant’Antioco Martire in Sant’Antioco). These early, monumental buildings were originally built on a central plan and bear testimony to ancient roots of Christendom on the island, having been built after a number of bishops were banished from North Africa because they refused the Vandals’ Arian heresy.
According to Church historian Juan María Laboa, “Under the government of Thrasamund, king of the Vandals, around the end of the 5th century, when the Christian authority for North Africa did everything possible to provide new bishops to the faithful who did not have one, a royal decree exiled the appointed ones and those who had appointed them.”
One of them was Fulgentius, bishop of the city of Ruspe. Always according to Laboa, “He went to Sardinia, in Cagliari, where the founded and built a monastery” near the Basilica of martyr Saint Saturninus.
Fulgentius “preached and worked hard at keeping in touch with the other exiled bishops; he wrote a number of letters to the north African communities, and established his authority so effectively that Thrasamund himself recalled him to Carthage, to be the judge of a dispute between the Catholic and the Arian…” (“La Chiesa e la sua storia”, vol. 3, Jaca Book, Milan 2005).
Fulgentius came back to Sardinia, then finally moved to Africa until his death.