Only a few miles to the south of France's second city, Lyon, stands the ancient town of Vienne. Situated in the Dauphiné on the banks of the five-hundred mile long River Rhone, it stands in that corridor of holiness which goes up from the city of Marseilles, the city of the Church Father St John Cassian, to Lyon, the city of another Church Father, St Irenaeus, and on into the heart of Western Europe in Switzerland.
An ancient Roman town, by its holiness Vienne is typical of many other ancient towns in Western Europe which were established in the Roman Empire. For like many other cities and towns of Italy, Spain and Gaul, or those on the edges of the Empire, like Trier now in Germany, or others now in Belgium, Switzerland and Austria, its episcopate shows a record of holiness which at once illustrates both the glory of the Orthodox West as well as the spiritual decline of Western Europe once it ceased to confess Orthodox Christianity. A town of importance in Roman Gaul, its situation today as a small town of about 30,000 inhabitants is a symbol of that faded spiritual glory. The fact is that of the 59 bishops of Vienne of the First Millennium, every single one up until St Wilcaire (+ 765) is venerated as a saint and that since St Burchard (+ 1030), not a single one of its bishops has ever been considered to be a saint, even by Roman Catholic authorities.
Here follows as full a catalogue as possible of those bishops, with the French form of their names in brackets:
St Crescens (Crescent) was the founder and first Bishop of the Church in Vienne. Tradition has it that he is the Crescens mentioned by the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4, 10) and he was consecrated by the Apostle as Bishop of Ancyra in Galatia in Asia Minor. However, when the Apostle Paul went to Spain, Crescent followed him. Travelling through Gaul, he remained for a period of time as a missionary in Vienne and a wide area around it. However, he then handed over his now established diocese to his successor Zacharias and then returned to Ancyra. Here he was martyred under the Emperor Trajan in c. 100. Feast: 27 June.
St Zacharias (Zacharie) is said to have accompanied St Crescens from Asia Minor. He was then consecrated by St Crescens and preached the Gospel in Vienne. He was martyred by being stoned to death by command of the Roman prefect Pompeius under the Emperor Trajan in 106. Feast: 26 May.
St Martin (Martin) was a disciple of the Apostles and was martyred under the Emperor Hadrian. Feast: 1 July.
St Verus I (Vère) was the fourth Bishop of Vienne in the middle of the second century. Feast: 1 August.
St Justus (Juste) was one of those martyred in the great persecution of 177. Feast: 6 May.
St Dionysius (Denys) lived at the very end of the second century. A letter to him apparently written in 200 still survives. Feast: 9 May.
St Paracodius (Paracode) was of Greek descent and governed the Church with great courage during the persecution of Alexander Severus in c. 235. He was Bishop for 36 years and there survives a letter written to him. Feast: 1 January.
St Florentius I (Florent), eminent for his holiness of life and learning, was first banished and then martyred, probably under Volusianus in 253 or under Gallien in 275. Feast: 3 January.
St Lupicinus (Lupicin) who founded the Church of the Holy Apostles in Vienne was martyred under the Emperor Aurelian. Feast: 14 December.
St Simplicius (Simplice) continued the work of St Lupicinus and was martyred by Germanic barbarians in 282. Feast: 11 February.
St Verus II (Vère) attended the important Council of Arles in 314. Feast: 23 October.
St Paschasius (Paschase) was a lover of the saints and holiness. He held great pastoral responsibilities in the first quarter of the fourth century. Feast: 22 February.
St Claudius (Claude) was the thirteenth Bishop of Vienne. Feast: 1 June.
St Nectarius (Nectaire) took part in the Council of Vaison in c. 350 which dealt with the question of the unity of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. He played an active role in defending Orthodoxy against Arianism. Feast: 1 August.
St Nicetas (Nizier) lived under Gratian and built a church in honour of the third Bishop of Vienne, St Martin. Feast: 5 May.
St Florentius II (Florent) was the sixteenth Bishop of Vienne. Feast: 5 May.
St Simplicius (Simplice) was held in great esteem by his contemporaries at the beginning of the fifth century. Feast: 3 February.
St Mammertus (Mamert) was one of the great figures of fifth century Orthodox Gaul. He played a very active part in the conciliar and liturgical life of the Church and was known to St Hilary, Pope of Rome. He was commemorated as a miracle-worker, putting out two fires which threatened to destroy Vienne. He interceded many times on behalf of his people who suffered great calamities. He was also celebrated as a learned Christian writer and philosopher. He reposed in 475 shortly after the Council of Arles which he had attended. Unfortunately his relics were destroyed by Calvinists, though his tomb remains in St Peter's church in Vienne. Feast: 11 May.
St Hesychius I (Isice) was of senatorial family and governed the Church of Vienne until 490. A married Bishop, his son succeeded him as diocesan. Another son, St Apollinaris, becane Bishop of Valence to the south of Vienne. Feast: 16 March.
St Avitus was one of the great figures of his age. He was chosen Bishop of Vienne in 494, shortly after his father's repose, and in 496 helped with others in the conversion to Christianity of the Frankish King, Clovis. In 499 he took part in a major meeting in Lyon against the Arians and corresponded with several Popes of Rome. He co-presided the important Council of Epaone and consecrated many churches. He also converted the Burgundian King Sigismund who was later to become a monk and a martyr. St Avitus wrote several letters, poems, sermons and theological works. Only a few of these remarkable works have survived to this day. He reposed in 525. Feast: 5 February.
St Julian (Julien) took part in the Council of Orléans in 533. Feast: 22 April.
St Domninus (Domnin) was remarkable not only for his learning but also for his holiness. After his brief episcopate, he was much honoured, a church being built over his tomb. Feast: 3 November.
St Pantagathus (Pantagathe) was of noble family and rank. A learned man and a wise diplomat, he became Bishop of Vienne in c. 536 and reposed aged 65 in c. 540. He was at once honoured as a saint and his relics are venerated in the Cathedral of Vienne to this day. Feast: 17 April.
St Hesychius II (Isice) took part in the Church Councils in Orléans, Clermont and Paris in the middle of the sixth century. Feast: 12 November.
St Namatius (Namat) was of noble origin and was greatly revered for his charity and almsgiving. He reposed in 559 at the age of 73. Feast: 17 November.
St Philip (Philippe) presided over the second Council of Lyon in 567 and the fourth Council of Paris in 573. He reposed in c. 580. Feast: 3 May.
St Evantius (Evance) played an active part in several local Councils of the Church towards the end of the sixth century. He reposed in 586. Feast: 3 February.
St Verus III (Vère) was of senatorial family and reposed in c. 594. Feast: 13 January.
St Desiderius (Didier), previously deacon of St Verus III, was a learned man. He corresponded with St Gregory the Great concerning the mission of St Augustine to the English and defended the Orthodox Faith against Queen Brunhildis. For this she deposed him unjustly and exiled him to an island. Fearing his popularity and his holiness, she allowed him to return to his See four years later, she had him assassinated in c. 608 while he was visiting his diocese at a place now called St Didier-sur-Chalaronne. His Life was written soon after his martyrdom and his relics enshrined in 620 in St Peter's church in Vienne. Feast: 11 February.
St Domnus (Domnole) became Bishop of Vienne in 603 and was known at the royal court as a defender of righteousness. A man of holy life, he was distinguished by his almsgiving and his redemption of captives taken in the incessant wars of that time. He reposed in 657. Feast: 3 November.
St Aetherius (Ethère) loved the saints of God and was famed for his virtues, learning and miracles. He was the thirty-first Bishop of Vienne. Feast: 14 June.
St Clarentius (Clarent) was a learned man and much taken with the monastic life. He reposed c. 620. Feast: 25 April.
St Sindulphus (Syndulphe) took part in Church Councils in 625 and 630 and encouraged the monastic life. Feast: 10 December.
St Dodolinus (Dodolène / Landalène) helped monastic life and took part in the Council of Châlon in 644. Feast: 1 April.
St Edistus (Ediste) was the thirty-fifth Bishop of Vienne. Feast: 26 October.
St Caldeoldus (Caldéold / Eolad) greatly encouraged monasticism in the second half of the seventh century. Feast: 14 January.
St Bobolinus I (Bobolin), formerly an Abbot in Italy, was the thirty-seventh Bishop of Vienne. Feast: 14 April.
St George (Georges) was Bishop of Agde before Vienne. He reposed full of virtue in c. 670. Feast: 2 November.
St Blidranus (Blidran / Blidramme) is mentioned in a number of documents from 677 on and his signature is to be found on the acts of a local Council in 678. He reposed in 679. Feast: 22 January.
St Agratius (Agrat) was the fortieth Bishop of Vienne and reposed at the end of the seventh century. Feast: 14 October.
St Deodatus (Déodat) was the forty-first bishop of Vienne and a man of rare abstinence. Feast: 15 October.
St Eoaldus (Eoalde) was of royal descent and it was he who dedicated the Cathedral of Vienne to the martyrs of the Theban Legion, who are so renowned in that part of France. He reposed in 716. Feast: 7 July.
St Bobolinus II (Bobolin) was the forty-third Bishop of Vienne and reposed in 718. Feast: 26 May.
St Austrebertus (Austrebert) helped St Boniface in his mission in Germany. In this connection he received letters from two Popes of Rome, St Gregory II in 719 and St Zacharias in 742. He reposed during the Muslim invasion of France in 742. Feast: 5 June.
St Wilicarius (Wilicaire) left his see in c.752 when it fell under Frankish persecution. He took refuge in Orthodox Rome and then finally retired to the monastery of St Maurice where he reposed in 765. He is the forty-fifth Bishop of Vienne and the last of that unbroken series to be revered as a saint. Feast: 13 June.
St Ursion (Ours) was the forty-eighth Bishop of Vienne. He greatly helped the monastery of St Maurice in Vienne. With the rank of Archbishop he cared for five dioceses with all the difficulties that accompanied the reign of Charlemagne. He reposed in old age. Feast: 20 February.
St Wolferius (Wolfère) became the forty-ninth Bishop of Vienne in 797 and did much to improve conditions in his diocese. He reposed in 810. Feast: 15 May.
St Ado (Adon) was born in Burgundy of a wealthy and noble family in 799. An educated monk and priest, he taught at the monastery of Prum near Trier. He then spent four years in Italy and at Ravenna uncovered much material for his famous Martyrology, concerning the Lives of the saints, as well as his other writings. Installed as the fifty-second Bishop of Vienne, he played a very active part in Church life, protecting it from secular powers. He reposed in 875, honoured by all. Feast: 16 December.
St Theobald (Thibaud) became the fifty-eighth Bishop of Vienne in 970 and was active for thirty years, reposing in the year 1000. Feast: 21 May.
St Burchard (Burchard) was the fifty-ninth Bishop of Vienne and the fiftieth and last to be venerated as a saint of God. He ruled over his diocese for some thirty years, reposing in 1030. Feast: 19 August.