A notable missionary who is known principally by the writings of St. Gregory of Tours. According to Gregory, Paul was ordained at Rome and, with other missionaries including Sts. Saturninus and Dionysius, he was assigned to Gaul to preach the Gospel. He enjoyed considerable success in the region around Narbonne, founding several churches there.
Saint Paul of Narbonne was one of the “apostles to the Gauls” sent out (probably under the direction of Pope Fabian, 236–250) during the consulate of Decius and Gratus (250-251 AD) to Christianize Gaul after the persecutions under Emperor Decius had all but dissolved the small Christian communities. According to the lives of saints, Fabian sent out seven bishops from Rome to Gaul to preach the Gospel: Gatien to Tours, Trophimus to Arles, Paul to Narbonne, Saturnin to Toulouse, Denis to Paris, Austromoine to Clermont, and Martial to Limoges.
Gregory of Tours (Historia Francorum I, 30), using the Acta of Saturninus, affirms that Paul was among those priests consecrated at Rome and sent to replant the Christian communities in Gaul. Saturninus of Toulouse and Dionysius (Denis) of Paris were martyred, but Paul survived to establish the church at Narbonne as its first bishop and die in peace. There is a brief Vita Antiqua perhaps of the 6th century, which tells that Paul converted the inhabitants of Béziers, setting over them a bishop, Aphrodisius, before turning his attention to Narbonne, where he founded two churches. An anecdote recounts how two of his acolytes set a woman’s slippers at the foot of his bed, to accuse him of improprieties, but Paul was able miraculously to confound and pardon them.
Identification with Sergius Paulus
Medieval legends moved the seven apostles of Gaul back in time to the apostolic generation (see especially Martial of Limoges), in order to strengthen local traditions with apostolic connections; such a legend identified third-century Paul with the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus, who was converted by Paul the Apostle (Acts 13:6–13). The historical Paul is still venerated in Narbonne as Saint Paul-Serge through this connection. He is said to have been accompanied by Aphrodisius, who later became the first bishop of Béziers and whom developing tradition identified as the man who sheltered the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt.