Who was Saint Fermín?
The story that we know about the Saint that gives his name to our fiestas speaks of Fermín, son of Eugenia and Firmo, a Roman Senator that lived in Pamplona in the 3rd century and who according to tradition, was converted to Christianity by the Presbyterian Honesto who arrived to the city sent by Saint Saturnino with the mission of evangelising it. Educated by Honesto, at the age of seventeen the young Fermín already preached the Gospel in the area, until at the age of twenty-four he was consecrated Bishop.
Some years later, at the age of thirty, he began a journey through French territory, which took him to preach through Aquitania, Auvernia and Anjou, before settling in Amiens, where his work as a disseminator of the Christian doctrine must have been so outstanding that he was also named Bishop of Amiens, whilst earning the animosity of official authorities that were against Christianity, which took him first to prison, and then later to martyrdom by decapitation.
The legend of the Saint did not reach Pamplona until the 12th century, when in 1186, Pedro de París transferred a relic of the head of the Saint to Pamplona. Interestingly enough, the Patron Saint of Pamplona is Saint Saturnino and not Saint Fermín, who is the patron saint of Navarre, an honour he shares with Saint Francisco Javier.
Did Saint Fermín really exist?
Throughout history the appearance of apocryphal saints has been a frequent occurrence, characters based on hagiographical legends, partially factual or exaggerated stories, ones that have been manipulated, or quite simply with no factual base at all but with sufficiently attractive and stimulating biographies that they rouse the devotion of the people.
One of these saints could have been Saint Fermín. This is, at least, the conclusion drawn from research performed separately by various Navarran historians and an archaeologist from Amiens in 1970, in which they conclusively stated that the story of Saint Fermín has no historical basis. This is also confirmed by the rigorous study performed by the historian Roldán Jimeno Aranguren, forming part of his doctoral thesis, in which he reveals a host of inconsistent data, incongruences and untruths referring to the legend.
In any case, an indisputable fact is that today Saint Fermín is a character that is held in the affections of everyone in the city, whether they are believers or not, whether because of interest or devotion. What is true, is that as well as giving his name to the San Fermín festivities, his figure is an icon associated to the fiestas, and is a symbol with which everyone can identify.