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July 31, 2018

Saint Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre (+ 448)

St. Germanus of Auxerre (Feast Day - July 31)

Saint Germanus was born at Auxerre around 389, 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 rhetoric and civil law. He practiced 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 Honorius sent him back to Gaul, appointing him one of the six dukes, entrusted with the government of the Gallic provinces. He resided at Auxerre.

At length he incurred the displeasure of the bishop, Saint Amator (May 1), by hanging hunting trophies 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.

When in a short time Amator died, Germain was unanimously chosen to fill the vacant see, being consecrated 7 July 418. His 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, practiced great austerities, and built a large monastery dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian on the banks of the Yonne, whither he was wont to retire in his spare moments. More specifically, 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 labor. 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 found the sepulchers of several martyrs, particularly of a great multitude who had been put to death in the persecution of Aurelian, with Saint Priscus, otherwise called Saint 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 honor a church and monastery, called at this day De Saints en Puy Saye. Germanus gave all his landed estates to the Church, consisting of several agreeable and spacious manors, lying all contiguous to one another. Seven of these he gave to the cathedral church, namely Appoigny, where his father and mother had been buried in Saint John’s Church; little Varsy, where stood a palace; great Varsy, Toucy, Poeilly, Marcigny, and Perigni. Three he settled on the Monastery of Saints Cosmas and Damian, namely, Monceaux, Fontenay, and Merilles. He bestowed three others, called Garchy, Concou, and Molins, on the church which he built in honor of Saint Maurice, which at this day bears the name of Saint Germanus himself.

Around 429, shortly after the Romans had withdrawn from Britain, a Gaulish assembly of bishops chose Germanus and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes (July 29), to visit the island. It was alleged that Pelagianism was rife among the British clergy, led by a British bishop's son named Agricola. Germanus went to combat the threat and satisfy the Pope that the British church would not break away from the Augustinian teachings of divine grace.

On the way to Britain they passed through Nanterre. The inhabitants flocked about them to receive their blessing, and Germanus took particular notice of a girl named Genevieve, who was about ten years old. After his exhortation to the people he inquired for her parents, and addressing himself to them, foretold their daughter’s future sanctity, and said that she would perfectly accomplish the resolution she had taken of serving God, and that others would imitate her example. He asked her that day, and early the next, if she would consecrate herself to holy virginity for Christ and, on both occasions, she answered that it was her dearest wish. Then he blessed her and gave her a copper coin inscribed with the Cross to wear around her neck, telling her never to wear gold, silver or pearls, but to elevate her mind above the small beauties of this world in order to inherit eternal and heavenly adornments. She later became known as Saint Geneviève of Paris (+ January 3, 512).

Germanus and Lupus confronted the British clergy 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'. The bishops debated before an assembly and, despite having no popular support, Germanus was able to defeat the Pelagians using his superior rhetorical skills, causing the people to applaud him.

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.

Immediately after the debate with the Pelagians, Germanus gave thanks for his victory at the grave of Saint Alban, which was likely in some sort of tomb or basilica. That night, Germanus said that Saint Alban came to him in a dream, revealing the details of his martyrdom. When Germanus awoke, he had the account written down in tituli, possibly to be engraved on the walls or illustrated placards at a church site, either in Britain, or in Auxerre. It has been suggested that this account formed the basis of the Passion of Saint Alban, the foundational text of all information about Saint Alban. Germanus then deposited some of the relics of the saints he carried in the basilica, and took a sample of the earth at the site of Alban's martyrdom, which still bore the marks of the martyr's blood.

Germanus led the native Britons to a victory against Pictish and Saxon raiders, at a mountainous site near a river, of which Mold in North Wales is the traditional location. The enemy approaching, the former general put himself at the head of the Christians. He led them into a vale between two high mountains, and ordered his troops shout when he gave them a sign. When the Saxon pirates came near them, he cried out thrice, "Alleluia," which was followed by the whole army of Britons. The sound echoed from the hills with a noise so loud that the barbarians, judging from the shout that they were facing a mighty army, flung down their arms and ran away, leaving behind their baggage and booty.

In 446 he was called again into Britain, to assist once more that Church against the Pelagian heresy, which began a second time to raise its head there. He took for his companion Saint Severus, who had been lately promoted to the archbishopric of Triers, and had formerly been a disciple of Saint 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 left 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. Saint Germanus made him sit down, and touching his ham and leg, healed him in the presence of many. 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.

When savage barbarians threatened the city of Armorica (now Brittany), Saint Germanus met their leader Goar, seized his horse’s bridle, and turned him around. After defusing the threat, the Saint traveled to Ravenna seeking pardon for the rebels from the emperor Valentian III. 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 honors 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, Saint 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 encased 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. Saint 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. I thought I saw this night our Savior, 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 favor 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, Saint 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. Everywhere as it passed, the people came to meet it, showing all manner of honors. Some leveled 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 Saint Maurice, which he had founded, where stands at present the famous abbey which bears his name.

The tomb of the Saint continues to be venerated in the church of the Abbey of Saint-Germain d'Auxerre, which although now part of a municipal museum remains open for worship at stated times.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
By endurance you gained your reward, venerable Father, you persevered in prayer unceasingly, you loved the poor and provided for them in all things. Blessed Germanus of Auxerre, intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.