Germanus (DNB00)

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GERMANUS (378?–448), bishop of Auxerre, and missionary to Britain, son of noble parents whose names are given as Rusticus and Germanilla, was born at Auxerre about 378, and after attending schools in Gaul went to study at Rome. There he practised as an advocate, and on his return to Gaul married a lady named Eustachia, and became one of the six dukes of Gaul (for the office of dux see Recueil des Historiens, i. 750; there were five duces in Gaul about this time, ib. p. 125; Gibbon, ii. 320). Auxerre appears to have been in his province. He was fond of hunting, and used to hang the heads of the beasts which he slew on a large pear-tree in the middle of the city. Amator, the bishop, vainly remonstrated with him on this practice, which gave some countenance to pagan superstition, and one day, when Germanus was absent, cut down the tree and threw away the heads. Germanus thought of slaying Amator, but the bishop, who felt unworthy of the honour of martyrdom, circumvented him by going to the prefect Julius, and requesting that, as he knew that his end was near, he might secure Germanus as his successor. When he returned to Auxerre he gathered the people in the church, and Germanus came with the rest. The bishop caused all present to lay aside their arms, ordered the doors to be barred, and then seized the duke, cut his hair, made him a cleric, and bade him live as one who was to be a bishop. Soon after this Amator died, and Germanus wasunanimouslv chosen to succeed him, and was consecrated 7 July 418. He at once adopted a new manner of life, his wife became to him as a sister, he distributed his goods among the poor, and practised many austerities, such as abstaining from salt, oil, and other things, and sleeping on ashes laid upon boards. He founded a monnstery on the other bank of the Yonne, and often went across to visit the abbot and monks there. He had power over demons, laid a ghost which haunted a ruined house, and when on one of his journeys he found that the people who received him were in trouble because their cocks could not crow, he blessed the fowls' grain, and ever after the birds crowed so much that they became a nuisance (ad molestiam fetigabant) to the neighbours ( Vita, i. c. 5). In 429 a message came from Britain to the bishops of Gaul, begging them to give some help to the catholic cause in Britain against the spread of Pelagianism. A council was held. Germanus had perhaps already been commissioned by Pope Celestine to undertake the work as his representative, and he and St. Lupus, bishop of Troyes, were chosen by the council to go on a mission to Britain (Prosper of Aquitaine gives the date, and records the commission from Celestine; he was himself in Rome on a mission to Celestine in 432; Constantius, who was a contemporary of Germanus, and wrote his life less than fifty years after his death, only speaks of the Gallic council; the two accounts are not inconsistent. Councils and Eccl. Docs. i. 17 n. a; Tillemont, Mémoires, xiv. 154; but Lingard's explanation seems forced, Anglo-Saxon Church, i. 8). As the two bishops journeyed they came to Nanterre, near Paris. From the crowd which assembled to see them Germanus singled out a young girl named Genovefa, and bade her dedicate herself to God; she became famous as Ste. Geneviève of Paris. It was winter when the bishops crossed, and Germanus calmed the sea by pouring oil upon it. The connection between the British and Gallic churches was very close at this period, and among the disciples of Amator, who tarried with Germanus, was St. Patrick, a native probably of Strathclwyd.

The bishops held a disputation with the heretic teachers evidently near Verulamium (St. Albans). Their opponents appeared richly dressed, and followed by a crowd of admiring disciples, but were vanquished by the ‘torrent of eloquence mixed with the thunders of the apostles and evangelists’ which the bishops launched against them. The victory was declared by the shouts of the multitude. The bishops then visited the tomb of St. Alban, in which Germanus deposited some precious relics, taking away a piece of earth red with the martyr's blood. To this visit belongs the famous story of the Alleluia victory, which is told by Constantius. The Britons besought the bishops' help against the incursions of the Picts and Saxons. Germanus bade them take courage. A large number of them who were, it is said, unbaptised received the rite. Immediately after Easter, 430, Germanus drew the Britons up in battle array in a valley closely shut in by mountains. When the enemy came, the British host thrice repeated after their leader the shout of Alleluia, and the hostile army fled in confusion, leaving abundance of spoil. On his return to Auxerre, Germanus found the people oppressed with taxation, and obtained a remission of the tax from the prefect. He built a church at Auxerre in honour of St. Alban and placed in it what he had brought from the martyr's tomb (‘Mir. S. Germani,’ Acta SS. July vii. 258). In 447 a message came to him from Britain requesting that he would again help the church there against the Pelagians. He went over in company with Severus, bishop of Treves, worked a miraculous cure which strengthened the catholic cause, and by his preaching entirely overthrew the Pelagian heresy. On his return to Gaul he found the Armoricans suffering under an invasion of Alans. They had been goaded to revolt, and the patrician Aetius instigated the Alans to invade them in order to reduce them to submission. Germanus seems at one time to have ruled the Armoricans as duke; he went to meet the Alans and begged their king Eochar to withdraw his forces. As Eochar would not listen, he seized the king's bridle; his courage and bearing overawed the king, who granted the Armoricans a respite to allow time for Germanus to plead their cause with the imperial government. Germanus at once set out for Italy, reached Milan on 19 June 448, and proceeded to Ravenna. At Ravenna he was received with much honour, and the empress-mother, Galla Placidia, sent him food on a silver dish. He gave the food to his attendants, sold the dish, and distributed the price among the poor, sending back to the empress in return some bread on a wooden platter. The empress had the platter encircled with gold, and kept the bread as a cure for sickness. While at Ravenna he dreamt that the Lord appeared to him and gave him provision for a journey; he asked on what pilgrimage he was to be sent, and received answer that he was to be sent on no pilgrimage but was to go home. He knew that this meant that he was soon to be taken to his home in heaven. He fell sick and died on 31 July 448. His body was sent back to Gaul with great magnificence; bridges and roads were mended all along the route by which the funeral car was to travel. He was buried in a chapel close by Auxerre on 1 Oct. When Auxerre fell into the hands of the Huguenots on 27 Sept. 1567, his bones, it has been asserted, were scattered; on the other hand it is claimed that they were concealed by the catholics; the subject is fully discussed by the Bollandists. There are many Welsh legends about the doings of Germanus in Britain. Maes-y-Garmon, near Mold in Flintshire, has been fixed upon as the site of the Alleluia victory (Ussher, Antiqq. p. 179). The book called by the name of ‘Nennius,’ probably of the ninth century, represents him as working many miracles, as anathematising Vortigern for incest, and taking part in other matters which are clearly unhistorical. Another legend attributes to him the foundation of the colleges of Llancarvan and Llanilltyd, while a Cornish missal claims ‘his preaching and relics for Cornwall, and attributes his mission to Pope Gregory.’ Gildas does not mention him, and Constantius says nothing of these legends. The utmost that can be said of them is that it is possible that they signify that Germanus ‘did more for British Christianity than Constantius knew of, or felt an interest in recording’ (Bright). Germanus is brought into the mythical stories of the antiquity of Oxford (inserted passage in Asser).

[Vita S. Germani by Constantius, a priest of Lyons, who was highly esteemed by Sidonius Apollinaris (Ep. i. 1, iii. 2), and who wrote between twenty-five and fifty years after the death of the bishop, Acta SS. Bolland. July vii. 211, with earlier commentary; Vita S. Germani by Heric, who wrote about 877, dedicating his work to Charles the Bald (Heric also wrote two books of miracles; he says that he derived some of his information from an aged British bishop named Mark, ib. 232 seq.); Vita S. Lupi, ib. p. 74; Vita S. Genovefæ, Acta SS. Bolland. Jan. i. 138 seq.; Prosper Aquit. Chron.; Migne's Patrol. li. 594; Bædæ Hist. Eccl. cxvii–xxi., borrowed from Constantius; Nennius, Hist. Brit. passim (Engl. Hist. Soc.), see Stevenson's preface; Welsh legends of Nennius used in Higden, Polychron. v. 274 (Rolls Ser.); Ussher's Antiquitates (1687), pp. 172 seq.; Rees's Welsh Saints, pp. 122–4; Haddan and Stubbs's Councils and Eccles. Docs. i. 16–21, 139; art. ‘Germanus’ (8), St., in Dict. Christ. Biog., by Canon Bright, D.D.]

W. H.