After Saint Thibéry, pilgrims to Compostela travelling along the old Domitian highway reached the Roman bridge across the Orb river where the city of Béziers on the Toulouse Road was perched on the heights above.
According to the legends of Charlemagne’s exploits in Spain, it was told that having liberated the shrine of the Apostle Saint James at Compostela, the emperor built five churches in France dedicated to the Apostle with the wealth he brought back from Spain. One of these was at Béziers. As the fifth book of the Codex of Calixtus, the History Charlemagne and Roland recounts, “With the gold and the wealth that the kings and princes of Spain gave and presented”, Charlemagne constructed the first church at Compostela dedicated to the Apostle. The chronicle continues by telling us that, “With the rest of the gold and silver that he brought from Spain he constructed many churches on his return to France”. Of these, five were dedicated to the Apostle of Compostela, including, “another church of Saint James in the city of Beziers”.
The church of Saint Jacques at Béziers, first recorded in 967, was part of an important abbey whose abbot was lord of an entire suburb of the city which included a hospital, presumably dedicated to the welfare of Compostelan pilgrims.
Also at Béziers was a church dedicated to Mary-Madgalene as well as the relics of Saint Aphrodisius who was claimed as the first bishop of the city. Gregory of Tours in the sixth century, relates that Aphrodisius was an Egyptian who had sheltered the Holy Family during the flight to Egypt and later became a disciple. Tradition also holds that Aphrodisius was one of the disciples who fled to Provence by boat with the family of Bethany. Along with Sergius Paulus, first bishop of Narbonne, Aphrodisius set out to evanglise Septimania, arriving at Béziers mounted on a camel. Encountering the persecution of the Roman authorities, he was beheaded under the orders of Nero. His sanctity was confirmed when he raised himself up and carried his head in the tradition of cephalophorus saints of whom Saint Denis is the most celebrated example. After his body was buried the inhabitants continued to care for Aphrodisius’ camel as a mark of their acceptance of his preaching. In 858 Usuard the monk of the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Près author of a well-known martyrology travelled through Béziers describing it as “An illustrious city by reason of the relics of blessed Aphrodisius”.
Béziers also maintained a shrine to Saint Nazarius, traditionally considered another martyr of Nero’s persecutions, at the cathedral which was dedicated to him.