St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre(Germain)
Bishop of Auxerre, born at Auxerre c. 380; died at Ravenna, 31 July, 448. He was the son of Rusticus and Germanilla, and his family was one of the noblest in Gaul in the latter portion of the fourth century. He received the very best education provided by the distinguished schools of Arles and Lyons, and then went to Rome, where he studied eloquence and civil law. He practised there before the tribunal of the prefect for some years with great success. His high birth and brilliant talents brought him into contact with the court, and he married Eustachia, a lady highly esteemed in imperial circles.
The emperor sent him back to Gaul, appointing him one of the six dukes, entrusted with the government of the Gallic provinces. He resided at Auxerre and gave himself up to all the enjoyments that naturally fell to his lot. At length he incurred the displeasure of the bishop, St. Amator. It appears that Germain was accustomed to hang the trophies of the chase on a certain tree, which in earlier times had been the scene of pagan worship. Amator remonstrated with him in vain. One day when the duke was absent, the bishop had the tree cut down and the trophies burnt. Fearing the anger of the duke, who wished to kill him, he fled and appealed to the prefect Julius for permission to confer the tonsure on Germain. This being granted, Amator, who felt that his own life was drawing to a close, returned. When the duke came to the church, Amator caused the doors to be barred and gave him the tonsure against his will, telling him to live as one destined to be his successor, and forthwith made him a deacon.
A wonderful change was instantly wrought in Germain, and he accepted everything that had happened as the Divine will. He gave himself up to prayer, study, and works of charity, and, when in a short time Amator died, Germain was unanimously chosen to fill the vacant see, being consecrated 7 July, 418. His splendid education now served him in good stead in the government of the diocese, which he administered with great sagacity. He distributed his goods among the poor, and practised great austerities. He built a large monastery dedicated to Sts. Cosmas and Damian on the banks of the Yonne, whither he was wont to retire in his spare moments.
In 429 the bishops of Britain sent an appeal to the continent for help against the Pelagian heretics who were corrupting the faith of the island. St. Prosper, who was in Rome in 431, tells us in his Chronicle that Pope Celestine commissioned the Church in Gaul to send help, and Germain and Lupus of Troyes were deputed to cross over to Britain. On his way Germain stopped at Nanterre, where he met a young child, Genevieve, destined to become the patroness of Paris. One of the early lives of St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, tells us that he formed one of St. Germain’s suite on this occasion. Tradition tells us that the main discussion with the representatives of Pelagianism took place at St. Alban’s, and resulted in the complete discomfiture of the heretics. Germain remained in Britain for some time preaching, and established several schools for the training of the clergy.
On his return he went to Arles to visit the prefect, and obtained the remission of certain taxes that were oppressing the people of Auxerre. He constructed a church in honour of St. Alban about this time in his episcopal city.
In 447 he was invited to revisit Britain, and went with Severus, bishop of Tr?ves. It would seem that he did much for the Church there, if one can judge from the traditions handed down in Wales. On one occasion he is said to have aided the Britons to gain a great victory (called from the battle-cry, Alleluia! the Alleluia victory) over a marauding body of Saxons and Picts.
On his return to Gaul, he proceeded to Armorica (Brittany) to intercede for the Armoricans who had been in rebellion. Their punishment was deferred at his entreaty, till he should have laid their case before the emperor. He set out for Italy, and reached Milan on 17 June, 448. Then he journeyed to Ravenna, where he interviewed the empress-mother, Galla Placidia, on their behalf. The empress and the bishop of the city, St. Peter Chrysologus, gave him a royal welcome, and the pardon he sought was granted. While there he died on 31 July, 450.
His body, as he requested when dying, was brought back to Auxerre and interred in the Oratory of St. Maurice, which he had built. Later the oratory was replaced by a large church, which became a celebrated Benedictine abbey known as St. Germain’s. This tribute to the memory of the saint was the gift of Queen Clotilda, wife of Clovis. Some centuries later, Charles the Bald had the shrine opened, and the body was found intact. It was embalmed and wrapped in precious cloths, and placed in a more prominent position in the church. There it was preserved till 1567, when Auxerre was taken by the Huguenots, who desecrated the shrine and cast out the relics. It has been said that the relics were afterwards picked up and placed in the Abbey of St. Marion on the banks of the Yonne, but the authenticity of the relics in this church has never been canonically recognized.
St. Germain was honoured in Cornwall and at St. Alban’s in England’s pre-reformation days, and has always been the patron of Auxerre.
An except from the Life of Saint Germain, written by Heric of Auxerre:
Since the glory of the father shines in the training of the children, of the many sons in Christ whom St. Germain is believed to have had as disciples in religion, let it suffice to make mention here, very briefly, of one most famous, Patrick, the special Apostle of the Irish nation, as the record of his work proves. Subject to that most holy discipleship for 18 years, he drank in no little knowledge in Holy Scripture from the stream of so great a well-spring. Germain sent him, accompanied by Segetius, his priest, to Celestine, Pope of Rome, approved of by whose judgement, supported by whose authority, and strengthened by whose blessing, he went on his way to Ireland.
In art, Saint Germanus is a bishop with an ass at his feet. Sometimes the image may contain huntsmen and wild game around him, or Germanus leading a dragon with seven heads (Roeder2).
- Source: Celtic and Old English Saints – 31 July
- 2. Roeder, H. (1956). Saints and Their Attributes: With a Guide to Localities and Patronage. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company.