The Headless Man of Saint-Tropez
Saint-Tropez got its name from an early Christian martyr, Saint Torpes of Pisa. Saint Torpes was a tax collector for the Roman Emperor Nero. As legend has it, he was a sort-of Robin Hood, collecting tax money (which often included beatings) in the name of Nero, and going out after dark to give handouts to the poor.
In the year 68, Paul the Apostle converted Torpes to Christianity, who then professed his new faith to Nero during a pagan ceremony. Nero demanded he renounce his faith, and ordered his decapitation when he refused.
Saint Torpes’ head was tossed into the Arno, a river in Tuscany, and his body was sent out into the Mediterranean on a rotten boat with a rooster and a dog, who they expected to further desecrate the body.
In what is now called St Tropez, a holy woman dreamt of the body’s arrival and told the villagers. His body was expected to be eaten, but when it reached the location of the present town, not far from the sailors’ cemetery, it remained untouched after its 18-day journey.
The locals saw this as a sign of Torpes’ righteousness and named their village in his honor (Saint Tropez is a French way of saying his name). Saint Torpes was also made the patron saint of sailors.
Amazingly, the animals somehow lived; the cock flew away towards the village later named Cogolin (meaning “little rooster”) after it, and the dog headed towards the town that became Grimaud (“old dog”), later named in honor of this dog.To this day, there are still two festivals to celebrate Torpes:
In mid-May, at a festival called Les Bravades (which commemorates the time of the creation of the army and its achievements — and involves plenty of gunfire), locals parade his bust down the streets to venerate him. Les Bravades dates to the 15th century and is a traditional (and loud) Provencal religious and military celebration held over three days each May. Apparently, it gives grown men a good excuse to don old military uniforms and fire muskets. Backed by a drum corps, parades and jubilant onlookers, this celebration is a beloved St-Tropez event, honoring military history as well as the town’s patron saint, Saint Torpes, whose bust is marched through the narrow lanes.
And in mid-June he is celebrated during ceremonies to commemorate the victory of the Tropezian militia over the Spaniards in 1673.
The iconic and oft-photographed bell tower of St-Tropez belongs to the Italian baroque-style Notre Dame de l’Assomption , which contains a wooden bust of Saint Torpes.
Want more? Read our guide to St-Tropez’s modern history, the crazy stories of the slaves, pirates and painters in St. Tropez’s ancient history, and learn about the scandal that made St-Tropez famous.