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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

July 26

St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, Confessor

HE was born at Auxerre about the year 380, of noble parents. Having laid the foundation of sound literature at home, he studied eloquence and the civil law at Rome, and pleaded with great reputation in the court of the Præfectus-prætorio. He married a lady of great quality named Eustachia, and being taken notice of by the emperor Honorius, was raised by him to several honourable employments, and at last to that of duke in his own province, which dignity gave him the command over all the troops in that country. Germanus being returned to Auxerre, was careful to shun gross vices; but his religion seemed confined to principles of integrity, and his virtues were merely human; for he was unacquainted with the true spirit of mortification, humility, and prayer. The young duke had a passion for hunting, and hung up the heads of the wild beasts which he killed on a great tree in the middle of the city, as trophies of his diversion. No one could presume to show him the meanness and folly of this favourite petty vanity, by which he seemed to authorize the superstitious custom of the Pagans who did the like to honour their gods. St. Amator, who was at that time the zealous bishop of Auxerre, made him strong remonstrances on the danger of countenancing such remains of idolatry, but without effect. At last, watching an opportunity, he caused this tree to be cut down while Germanus was absent, who, upon hearing this news, grievously threatened the bishop. St. Amator withdrew for a while to Autun; where he learned by a revelation that Germanus was designed by God to be his successor. He therefore procured privately the consent of Julius, the prefect of Gaul, that he might give the tonsure to Germanus; for, by the laws, no officer could quit his employment without such a permission. Julius giving leave, St. Amator returned to Auxerre, and causing the church doors to be shut when Germanus was come in, he gave him the tonsure, and ordained him deacon. By this instance, it appears, that immediately after the general persecutions, clerks were distinguished by the tonsure. This proof is the stronger, as the priest Constantius wrote this life in the same age. Germanus durst not make any opposition for fear of resisting the will of God. St. Amator died soon after on the 1st of May in 418, and St. Germanus was unanimously chosen by the clergy and people to succeed him, and consecrated by the bishops of the province on the 7th of July, notwithstanding the great reluctance he discovered.  1
  Full of a deep sense of the obligations of his new dignity, he became at once another man. He renounced all the pomps and vanities of the world, lived with his wife no otherwise than if she had been his sister, distributed all his possessions to the poor and to the Church, and embraced a life of poverty and austerity. From the day he was ordained bishop to his death, that is, for thirty years together, he never touched wheaten bread, wine, vinegar, oil, pulse, or salt. He began every meal by putting a few ashes in his mouth to renew in his soul a spirit of penance, and took no other sustenance than barley bread, which grain he had threshed and ground himself, that he might, as a true penitent, live by his own labour. He never ate but in the evening, sometimes about the middle of the week, often only on the seventh day. His dress was the same in winter and summer, and consisted of a cowl and tunic which he never changed till they were worn to pieces. He always wore a haircloth next his skin. His bed was enclosed with two boards, strewed with ashes, without a bolster, and covered with a sackcloth and one blanket. He always carried about him some relics of saints in a little box, tied to a leather string. He extended his hospitality to all sorts of persons, washed the feet of the poor, and served them with his own hands, at the same time that he himself fasted. He built a monastery over against Auxerre, on the other side of the river Yone, in honour of SS. Cosmas and Damian, which now goes by the name of St. Marian’s, from one of its first abbots. He found the sepulchres of several martyrs, particularly of a great multitude who had been put to death in the persecution of Aurelian, with St. Priscus, otherwise called St. Bry, in a place called Coucy, where their bodies had been thrown into a cistern or pit out of which he took them, and built in their honour a church and monastery, called at this day de Saints en Puy saye. St. Germanus gave all his landed estates to the Church, consisting of several agreeable and spacious manors, lying all contiguous to one another. 1 Seven of these he gave to the cathedral church, namely Appoigny, where his father and mother had been buried in St. John’s church; little Varsy, where stood a palace; great Varsy, Toucy, Poeilly, Marcigny, and Perigni. Three he settled on the monastery of St. Cosmas, namely, Monceaux, Fontenay, and Merilles. He bestowed three others, called Garchy, Concou, and Molins, on the church which he built in honour of St. Maurice, which at this day bears the name of St. Germanus himself. In this manner he reduced himself to great poverty, and to perpetuate the divine honour, and the relief of the indigent, enriched the church of Auxerre which he found very poor. By many like examples, it appears, that the great endowments of several churches were originally owing to the liberality of their bishops, as Fleury observes.  2
  Pelagius began to dispute against the necessity of divine grace at Rome, about the year 405. Being himself by birth a Briton, it is not to be wondered that he should have disciples in Britain. Among these one Agricola, the son of Severinus, who, after the birth of this son, was chosen bishop and became a Pelagian, spread the poison of this heresy in our island. The deacon Palladius, whom Pope Celestine had sent to the places infected with this heresy, and whom he afterwards ordained bishop, and commissioned to go into Scotland, moved him to provide for the preservation of so many souls; and other Catholics in Britain had sent a deputation to the bishops in Gaul, entreating them to send over some able person to defend the faith and oppose the growing evil. Pope Celestine nominated St. Germanus of Auxerre to go thither in quality of his vicar in the year 429, as St. Prosper assures us. 2 The bishops of Gaul assembled in a numerous council for the same purpose, and agreed to entreat St. Lupus, who had then been only two years bishop of Troyes, to accompany St. Germanus in this important mission. 3 These two holy prelates, proceeding on their journey, came to Nanterre near Paris, where St. Germanus gave his blessing and good counsel to St. Genevieve, and foretold her future sanctity. She being at that time about fifteen years old, and desirous to consecrate herself a virgin to God, St. Germanus, after many solemn prayers in the church, received there her vow, and confirmed it by laying his right hand upon her head. 4  3
  St. Germanus and St. Lupus embarking in the winter season, were overtaken with a furious tempest, which St. Germanus appeased by casting some drops of blessed oil, according to Constantius, but according to Bede, of holy water, into the sea, having first invoked the adorable Trinity. Being arrived in Britain they were met by a great multitude of people, and the fame of their sanctity, doctrine, and miracles soon filled the whole country. They confirmed the Catholics in all parts, and converted the heretics, preaching often in the highways and fields where the churches were not able to contain the crowd that flocked to them. The Pelagians every where shunned them; but being at length ashamed thus to condemn themselves by their flight and silence, accepted a conference. The disputation was held at Verulam before an incredible number of people. The heretics, who made their appearance with a great train and in rich apparel, spoke first. When they had talked a long time, the bishops answered them with great eloquence, and so invincibly supported their arguments with quotations from scripture, that their adversaries were fairly reduced to silence. The people applauded their victory with joyful acclamations. Before the assembly broke up, a certain tribune and his wife presented their little daughter of ten years of age, who was blind, to the two holy bishops; and they bid them take her to the Pelagians. But the latter joined the parents in begging the saints to pray for her. The two bishops made a short prayer; then Germanus called upon the Blessed Trinity; and taking from his neck the little box of relics which he wore, laid it upon the eyes of the girl before the whole assembly, who immediately recovered her sight, to the great joy of her parents and of all the people. From that day no one opposed the doctrine of the holy bishops. The saints went from this conference to return thanks to God at the tomb of St. Alban, the most illustrious martyr in Britain. St. Germanus caused his sepulchre to be opened, and deposited in it his box of relics of apostles and martyrs, taking from the same place a little of the dust which still retained some marks of the blood of St. Alban. This he carried away with him, and, at his return, built at Auxerre a church in his honour, where he placed these relics. 5  4
  The Saxons from Germany on one side, and on the other the Picts, at that time harassed the Britons. Paul the deacon tells us, that an army of Picts and Scots invaded their territories whilst the two bishops were in the island; and Bishop Usher takes notice, that the Saxons and English who inhabited Sleswic, and all the German coast from Denmark to the Rhine, made descents upon Britain from time to time before the arrival of Hengist and Horsa in 449. The Britons having assembled an army against these plunderers, invited the two holy bishops into their camp, hoping to be protected by their prayers and presence. The saints complied with their request, but employed their time in bringing the idolaters to the faith, and the Christians to a reformation of their manners. Many of the former demanded baptism, and the saints prepared them to receive it at Easter, for it was then Lent. They erected a church in the camp, of green boughs twisted together, in which the catechumens received the sacrament of regeneration; and the whole army celebrated the festival with great devotion. After Easter, St. Germanus had recourse to a stratagem, by which, without bloodshed, he rescued his dear converts and the country out of the danger with which they were threatened. The enemy approaching, he put himself at the head of the Christians with so much skill and address as showed he had not forgotten his old profession of a general. He led his little army into a vale between two high mountains, and ordered his troops to send forth the same shout for which he would give them a sign. When the Saxon pirates came near them, he cried out thrice, Alleluiah, which was followed by the whole British army; and the sound was often repeated by the echo from the hills with as dreadful a noise as if the rocks had been rent asunder. The barbarians, in a sudden fright, judging from the shout that they were falling upon the swords of a mighty army, flung down their arms and ran away, leaving behind them all their baggage and a great booty. Many of them were drowned in crossing a river, by missing the fords. 6 Bishop Usher 7 says, this battle seems to have been fought near a town in Flintshire, called in the British tongue, Guidcruc, but in English, Mould. The place retains to this day the name of Maes Garmon, or German’s field. The two holy bishops after so many victories, returned home to their respective diocesses. 8  5
  St. Germanus found his people loaded with extraordinary imposts, and undertook a journey to Arles, to solicit Auxiliaris, prefect of Gaul, in their behalf. On the road, the people every where met him in crowds, with the women and children, to receive his blessing. When he drew near to Arles, the prefect Auxiliaris himself, contrary to custom, had come a good way to meet him, and conducted him to the capital. He admired his gracefulness, and the charity and authority which his countenance and conversation displayed, and found him to exceed his reputation. He made him great presents, and entreated him to cure his wife who had been long ill of a quartan ague. He obtained his request, and granted St. Germanus the discharge from the taxes which he had asked for his people. The saint being returned home, applied himself earnestly to reform their manners; but used to retire from time to time to his monastery of SS. Cosmas and Damian. In 446 he was called again into Britain, to assist that church against the Pelagian heresy, which began a second time to raise its head there. He took for his companion St. Severus, who had been lately promoted to the archbishopric of Triers, and had formerly been a disciple of St. Lupus of Troyes. In Britain he sought out those who had been seduced by the heretics, and converted many of them; so that the obstinate sowers of those errors found no longer any retreat here, and quitted the island. A principal man of the country, called Elaphius, brought to him his son, who was in the flower of his age, and had one ham contracted and his leg withered. St. Germanus made him sit down, and touching his ham and leg, healed him in the presence of many. St. Germanus considering that ignorance could not be banished, nor the reformation which he had established maintain its ground, without regular schools for the instruction of the clergy, instituted schools of learning, by which means, “These churches continued afterwards pure in the faith, and free from heresy,” as Bede observes. 9 In South Wales, having ordained St. Iltutus priest, and St. Dubricius archbishop of Landaff, he charged them with the care of several schools, which soon grew very famous for the numbers, learning, and eminent sanctity of those who were there educated. Two of these, under the immediate direction of the latter, were seated at Hentlan and Moch-ros, places lying on the river Wye, where he had one thousand scholars, for years together. The names of the most eminent among them are mentioned in the life of St. Dubricius, written, as some maintain, by St. Thelian’s own hand in the ancient Landaff register. 10 The schools of St. Iltutus at Llan-Iltut (now Lantwit) near Boverton, and at Llan-elty, near Neath in Glamorganshire, were in like repute, and equally filled with the sons of the nobility from all parts of the island. Among his disciples we find St. Gildas, St. Leonorius, bishop and confessor, St. Samson, St. Magloire, St. Malo, St. Paul, afterwards bishop of Leon, and Daniel, whom St. Dubricius made bishop of Bangor, where he likewise instituted a seminary for the Britons. Paulinus, another disciple of St. Germanus, did the like at Whiteland in Caermarthenshire, where St. David and St. Theliau studied. The seminaries of Llancarvan, near Cowbridge, and the famous school of Bencor, in Flintshire, were also noble monuments of St. Germanus’s zeal. This saint was on his road back when he met a deputation from the inhabitants of Armorica or Brittany, who besought him to be their protector; for to punish them for a revolt, Aëtius, the Roman general in Gaul, had sent Eocarich, a Pagan and barbarous king of the Alemanni, to subdue them. St. Germanus boldly accosted the barbarian, stopping his horse by the bridle, at the head of his army. The German at first refused to hear him; but at length listened to his discourse, and by it was so much softened as to call off his troops, and agree not to ravage the province, on condition he should obtain the pardon of the people from the emperor, or from his general Aëtius. In order to procure this the saint undertook a journey to Ravenna, where the Emperor Valentinian III. then resided.  6
  He wrought several miracles on the way, and at Milan delivered a man who was possessed by the devil. He entered the city of Ravenna by night to avoid honours and pomp; but the people being aware of his precaution, a great crowd awaited for him, and saluted him with acclamations. He was received with great joy by the bishop, St. Peter Chrysologus; by the young Emperor Valentinian, and his mother Placidia. She sent to his house a great silver vessel filled with dainties, without any flesh, which she knew he would never touch. The saint sent her in return a barley loaf upon a wooden dish. The empress received it graciously, ordered the dish to be enchased with gold, and kept the loaf, by which several miraculous cures were performed. The emperor confirmed his request; but the restless people, by raising new disturbances, destroyed the effect of the imperial clemency. The saint was continually attended at Ravenna by six bishops, and wrought there many miracles. The son of Volusian, chancellor or secretary to the patrician Sigisvultus, being dead and cold, the saint was called, and having put all the company out of the chamber, he prostrated himself near the corpse, and prayed with tears. After some time the dead man began to stir, opened his eyes, and moved his fingers. St. Germanus raised him, he sat up, and, by degrees, was restored to perfect health. One day after matins, as the saint was talking with the bishops of religious matters, he said to them: “My brethren. I recommend my passage to your prayers. Methought I saw this night our Saviour, who gave me provision for a journey, and told me, it was to go into my native country, and to receive eternal rest.” A few days after, he fell sick. All the city was alarmed. The empress went to see him, and he desired the favour of her to send back his corpse into his own country; to which she assented, though very unwillingly. He died at Ravenna on the seventh day of his illness, which was the last of July in 448, having held his see thirty years and twenty-five days. The Empress Placidia took his reliquary, St. Peter Chrysologus his cowl and hair shirt, and the six other bishops divided his clothes among them. The eunuch Acholius, prefect of the emperor’s chamber, one of whose servants, when sick, the saint had cured, had his corpse embalmed; the empress clothed it with a rich habit, and gave a coffin of cypress wood; the emperor furnished the carriages, the expense of the journey, and the officers to attend it. The funeral pomp was most magnificent; the number of lights was so great, that they shone as broad-day. Every where as it passed, the people came to meet it, showing all manner of honours. Some levelled the ways and repaired the bridges, others bore the corpse, or at least sung psalms. The clergy of Auxerre went as far as the Alps to meet it. The sacred treasure was brought to that city fifty days after the saint’s death, and after having been exposed six days, was interred on the 1st of October in the oratory of St. Maurice, which he had founded, where stands at present the famous abbey which bears his name. His principal festival is kept on the 31st of this month. St. Germanus was the titular saint of many churches in England, and of the great abbey of Selby, in Yorkshire, the abbot whereof was a parliamentary baron. A chapel near Verulam in which St. Germanus had preached, was a place of great devotion to him among our ancestors, and was afterwards dedicated under his name. From him the parliamentary borough of St. German’s, in Cornwall, is called. See his life written by the priest Constantius, who was nearly his contemporary, and is commended by St. Sidonius Apollinaris in the same age: also Bede, and Nennius, the British historian, who wrote in 620. All these relate the miracles mentioned above. See also Leland’s Itinerary, Brown-Willis, Usher, Fleury, Tillemont, t. 15, Rivet. Hist. Littér, t. 2, p. 256, and Recueil des Lettres sur la Vèrification des Reliques de St. Germain d’Auxerre, 1753, in 8vo.  7
Note 1. Hist. Episc. Antisiodor. See Messieurs De Ste. Marthe, in Gallia Christiana. [back]
Note 2. Prosp. in Chron. et 1, contra Collat. c. 21. [back]
Note 3. Bede Hist. l. 1, c. 17, Constant. in vitâ S. German. [back]
Note 4. Vita S. Genevevæ. [back]
Note 5. Hist. Episcop. Antisiod. [back]
Note 6. Bede, Hist. l. 1, c. 1. Gildas, ep. pp. 17, 18. Constantius in vitâ S. Germani. Carte, pp. 184, 185. [back]
Note 7. Antiq. Brit. c. 11, pp. 179, 180. Carte, t. 1, p. 288. [back]
Note 8. Carte (pp. 184, 186,) thinks the Alleluiah victory gained over the Picts and Saxons, and the other transactions of St. Germanus in Wales, happened in his second mission. For SS. Dubricius and Iltutus, whom he ordained bishops, lived beyond the year 512, according to some until 527 or even 540. Sir Henry Spelman and Wilkins, (Conc. Brit. t. 1, p. 1,) on this account place the synod of Verulam, held by St. Germanus against the Pelagians, in 446. [back]
Note 9. Bede Hist. l. 1, c. 21. Bollandus and Henschenius in vitâ S. Theliau ad 9 February, &c. [back]
Note 10. Stillingfleet, Orig. Britan. p. 349. [back]