The Relics of St. Caesarius to be on Display During Special Vatican Exhibition

March 16, 2017
The belt buckle of St. Caesarius.

The exhibition "Between Arles and Rome, the relics of St. Caesarius: Treasures of Paleo-Christian Gaul" will be on display at the Vatican from March 24 to June 25, 2017, in the museum of Pio Cristiano. On display will be the relics of St. Caesarius (470–542), bishop of Arles, as well as the most ancient liturgical vestments of the Christian West.

Caesarius was born in 470 in Burgundy, in Chalon-sur- Saône, to a Catholic Gallo-Roman family. At the age of 18 he received the tonsure and entered into the service of his bishop. Two years later he withdrew to the monastery of Lerins, where he was to remain for over 10 years, acquiring a solid formation. Sent to Arles for his health, he met African orator Julianus Pomerius. Aeonius, bishop of Arles and a relative, ordained him a priest and appointed him abbot of a monastery. In 502, he was chosen as Aeonius’ successor.

The Arles where Caesarius arrived in 499 was a major city of the Visigoths, and when he became bishop in 502, his Burgundian origins brought him under the suspicion of the Arian Visigoth leaders. Exiled to Bordeaux in 505 by the Visigoths, threatened by rioters whipped up against him in Arles during its siege by the Burgundians in 508, and subjected to grave accusations thereafter, Caesarius was arrested and brought before Theodoric in Ravenna. But the king dismissed the case and loaded him with gifts, which he soon parted with in exchange for prisoners, among others, the entire population of the town of Orange. 

At the time there was only one monastic foundation for women in Gaul, in Marseille. Caesarius sent his sister Caesaria there before entrusting to her guidance the convent he founded in 512 in the Hautures neighbourhood of Arles. 

In 513, Pope Symmachus granted him the privilege of wearing the pallium, thus confirming him in his assignment of Vicar of the Holy See in Spain and Gaul. Caesarius subsequently organized several councils, in Arles in 524, in Carpentras in 527, in Orange in 529, in Vaison in 529 and in Marseille in 533, where significant decisions were made with regard to parishes and clerical training. Caesarius extended to priests the privilege of preaching, heretofore reserved to bishops, and wrote collections of sermons inspired by St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, devoting great care to having them copied and distributed.

He was a famous preacher and left us 238 sermons on every aspect of the Christian life. Caesarius was moreover a theologian and a legislator who took care to establish tradition in writing. He died in 542 aged 72, after 39 years as bishop. His relics and his sermons contain all the spiritual and political hallmarks of their era at the same as expressing the holy bishop’s simplicity of life.