Germanus of Auxerre

Infobox Saint
name= Saint Germanus of Auxerre
birth_date=ca. 378
death_date=31 July, 448
feast_day= July 31
venerated_in= Roman Catholic Church


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titles= Bishop
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Germanus of Auxerre (c. 378–31 July, 448) was a bishop of Auxerre in Gaul. He is a saint in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, commemorated on July 31. He visited Britain in 429 in response to the growth of Pelagianism there and the records of his visit provide valuable information on the state of post-Roman British society.

The principal source for the events of his life is the hagiography written by Constantius of Lyon around 480. Constantius was a friend of Bishop Lupus of Troyes, who accompanied Germanus to Britain, which provided him with a link to Germanus.

Early life

Germanus was ordained bishop of Auxerre by his predecessor in this post, Amator. Prior to this he had also practised law and held a post of provincial governor.

Near 429, a British bishop's son named Agricola started leading the native Christians toward Pelagianism. A Gaulish assembly of bishops chose Germanus and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, to visit the island to combat the threat and satisfy the Pope that the British church would not break away from the Augustinian teachings of divine grace.

Visit to Britain

Germanus and Lupus confronted the Pelagians at a public meeting before a huge crowd in Britain. The Pelagians were described as being 'conspicuous for riches, brilliant in dress and surrounded by a fawning multitude' indicating that the post-Roman ruling classes had not been entirely wiped out and still had wealth and influence. Alternatively, this may be embellishment by Constantius who wished to magnify the achievements of his subject. The bishops debated and despite having no popular support, Germanus was able to defeat the Pelagians using his superior rhetoric.

Following the meeting, Germanus and Lupus visited the shrine of Saint Alban, suggesting that the site of the debate was at Verulamium, or perhaps London (Londinium). Constantius also recounts the miraculous healing of the son of 'a man with tribunician power'. This use of the word tribune may imply the existence of some form of post-Roman government system. However, in Constantius' lifetime tribune had acquired a more loose definition, and often was used to indicate any military officer, whether part of the Imperial army or part of a town militia.

Germanus led the native Britons to a victory against a Pictish and Saxon army, at a mountainous site near a river. Mold in North Wales is the traditional location. After baptising his troops (notably, they were not Christians) he ordered them all to cry 'Alleluia!' The sound apparently so terrified the invaders that they fled before battle could be brought. That Germanus took command may mean that the ruling Pelagian classes had been discredited after losing the debate at Verulamium or even that they themselves had enlisted the Saxons and Picts. The contemporary British warlord Vortigern certainly made use of Saxon mercenaries and the political aspects of Pelagianism have been much discussed. It has been suggested by Peter Salway that the battle was fought to ensure that Britain remained sympathetic to Aëtius and support his bid for control of the Western Roman Empire.

Although Germanus is traditionally credited with the establishment of the Diocese of Sodor and Man on the Isle of Man, this was probably a different man of a similar name.The link with Saint Patrick, traditionally portrayed as his pupil, is also contested in recent scholarship.

Later life

Germanus made a second visit to Britain in the 440s, joined by Severus, Bishop of Trier and meeting Elafius, described by Bede as 'a chief of that region'. Germanus cured Elafius' enfeebled son and this miracle served to persuade the population again that Gaulish Catholicism rather than Pelagianism was the true faith.

He died in Ravenna while petitioning the Roman government for leniency for the citizens of Armorica, against whom Aëtius had dispatched the Alans on a punitive expedition. Scholars have argued, based on the scanty evidence, that his death should be dated to 445, 446, 447 or 448.

Cult

St. Germanus' tomb remains venerated in the Abbey Church, Abbey of Saint-Germain en Auxerre, which although part of municipal museum remains open for worship at stated times. There is a tradition of a panegyric on the Sunday nearest to or preceding his festival in July.

St. German of Auxerre's cult spread in northern France, hence the church bearing his name facing the Louvre in Paris. His cult is clearly distinguished from that of the homonymous St. German of Paris. He is associated with the church at Charonne in the east of Paris and the cult of St. Genevieve (Genoveva) in Nanterre to the west of the city, both situated on the late Roman road network. His journey to Britain is commemorated in his dedications at Siouville and at St. Germain les Vaux in the Cotentin (Manche).

Scholars have contested the traditional identification with the Welsh St. Garmon, reflected in north Wales placenames 'Llanarmon'. More recently however, a Bodley church dedicated to this saint was erected in an eastern suburb of Cardiff.

The former priory church at St.German's in Cornwall bears his name and was previously the seat of a bishopric.

Fictional portrayals of Germanus

* Germanus figures in the 2004 movie "King Arthur", although his second and final mission to Britain took place twenty years before the year the movie is set in. He is portrayed by Italian actor Ivano Marescotti.

* His visit to Britain is the subject of a Welsh radio play by Saunders Lewis entitled "Buchedd Garmon".

* Germanus appears many times in the Jack Whyte series "A Dream of Eagles'" and "The Golden Eagle" .

In addition, Hilaire Belloc referred to Germanus in his humorous poem, "The Pelagian Drinking Song":

:"And with his stout Episcopal staff":"So thoroughly whacked and banged":"The heretics all, both short and tall --":"They rather had been hanged."

References

*F.R. Hoare, "The Western Fathers" (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965). A translation of the "Life of St Germanus" appears on pp. 283-320.
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06472b.htm Catholic Encyclopedia article]
*E G Bowen, "The Dedications of the Celtic Saints in Wales".

Further reading

* E.A Thompson, "Saint Germanus of Auxerre and the End of Roman Britain" (Woodbridge, 1984).
* I.N Wood, ‘The End of Roman Britain: Continental Evidence and Parallels’, in M. Lapidge & D. Dumville ed. "Gildas: New Approaches" (Woodbridge, Suffolk ; Dover, New Hampshire, 1984), pp. 1 – 25.


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