The Hidden Gold Treasure of Toulouse

Saint Sernin Basilica
Saint Sernin Basilica – A UNESCO listed site
The legend of the existence of a “cursed” gold treasure hidden in the bowels of Toulouse has been in the French folklore since antiquity, when Toulouse with the whole southwest of France were part of Roman Empire.
The legend is the base of the French proverb “Il a l’or de Toulouse” translated literally as “He’s got the Toulouse gold” and meaning “Ill-gotten never profit”.
It is said that in 278 BC a Celtic army lead by a certain Brennus went as far as Greece and plundered the temple of Apollo at Delphi, temple laden with gifts left for the famous oracle. The Gauls retreated then with their booty to Toulouse but after a short while a plague epidemic broke out. This was taken by the city’s priests as a sign that the booty was cursed and needed to be disposed of. The treasure was therefore thrown in a lake.
In 106 BC a Roman army lead by Cépion stormed the city of Toulouse and pillaged it in revenge for the resistance of the local population. The Romans found also a part of the Dephi’s treasure, laying in the bottom of the lake, and having taken also treasures from the local temples went back to Rome. However it was soon observed that those who had carried a certain amount of gold from Toulouse perish miserably, after enduring indescribable suffering. This was the base of the Latin proverb “Aurum habet Tolosanum” which was later translated in French “Il a l’or de Toulouse”!
Yet, the story of Toulouse’s golden treasure did not stop here. The Romans took only a part of the Dephi’s treasure. The rest is, apparently, still at the bottom of lake that supports the foundation of the Saint Sernin Cathedral (Saint Sernin is not the only one cathedral apparently built on a lake, another example would be the Strasbourg Cathedral).
It appears that in 1782 a certain baron de Montégut, historic and member of the Toulouse city council, learnt that there was a staircase under the Saint Sernin basilica, staircase that was going to a gallery surrounding a lake, and made this fact public. Years later, Etienne-Leon de Lamothe-Langon, a French novelist, descended this staircase and wrote that he found at its end a big lake with “cold and calm water”.
The supposed lake Saint Sernin was built on came recently in the news with the launching this summer of archeological excavations around the basilica. It is certain that on the Northern side of the church there is a 5 or 6 meters long staircase that goes to a well. This well was built during the reconstruction of the nave in the 12th century. The archeological searches will be also focusing on finding the 12th century cloister – destroyed during the French Revolution -, as well as the grave of Saint Saturnin.

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